Quality improvement training for burn care in low-and middle-income countries: A pilot course for nurses

There is an urgent need to empower practitioners to undertake quality improvement (QI) projects in burn services in low-middle income countries (LMICs). We piloted a course aimed to equip nurses working in these environments with the knowledge and skills to undertake such projects.

Eight nurses from five burns services across Malawi and Ethiopia took part in this pilot course, which was evaluated using a range of methods, including interviews and focus group discussions.

Course evaluations reported that interactive activities were successful in supporting participants to devise QI projects. Appropriate online platforms were integral to creating a community of practice and maintaining engagement. Facilitators to a successful QI project were active individuals, supportive leadership, collaboration, effective knowledge sharing and demonstrable advantages of any proposed change. Barriers included: staff attitudes, poor leadership, negative culture towards training, resource limitations, staff rotation and poor access to information to guide practice.

The course demonstrated that by bringing nurses together, through interactive teaching and online forums, a supportive community of practice can be created. Future work will include investigating ways to scale up access to the course so staff can be supported to initiate and lead quality improvement in LMIC burn services.

Surgical service monitoring and quality control systems at district hospitals in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia: a mixed-methods study

Background In low-income and middle-income countries, an estimated one in three clinical adverse events happens in non-complex situations and 83% are preventable. Poor quality of care also leads to inefficient use of human, material and financial resources for health. Improving outcomes and mitigating the risk of adverse events require effective monitoring and quality control systems.

Aim To assess the state of surgical monitoring and quality control systems at district hospitals (DHs) in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia.

Methods A mixed-methods cross-sectional study of 75 DHs: Malawi (22), Tanzania (30) and Zambia (23). This included a questionnaire, interviews and visual inspection of operating theatre (OT) registers. Data were collected on monitoring and quality systems for surgical activity, processes and outcomes, as well as perceived barriers.

Results 53% (n=40/75) of DHs use more than one OT register to record surgical operations. With the exception of standardised printed OT registers in Zambia, the register format (often handwritten books) and type of data collected varied between DHs. Monthly reports were seldom analysed by surgical teams. Less than 30% of all surveyed DHs used surgical safety checklists (n=22/75), and <15% (n=11/75) performed surgical audits. 73% (n=22/30) of DHs in Tanzania and less than half of DHs in Malawi (n=11/22) and Zambia (n=10/23) conducted surgical case reviews. Reports of surgical morbidity and mortality were compiled in 65% (n=15/23) of Zambian DHs, and in less than one-third of DHs in Tanzania (n=9/30) and Malawi (n=4/22). Reported barriers to monitoring and quality systems included an absence of formalised guidelines, continuous training opportunities as well as inadequate accountability mechanisms.

Conclusions Surgical monitoring and quality control systems were not standard among sampled DHs. Improvements are needed in standardisation of quality measures used; and in ensuring data completeness, analysis and utilisation for improving patient outcomes.

Prevalence, causes and impact of musculoskeletal impairment in Malawi: A national cluster randomized survey

There is a lack of accurate information on the prevalence and causes of musculoskeletal impairment (MSI) in low income countries. The WHO prevalence estimate does not help plan services for specific national income levels or countries. The aim of this study was to find the prevalence, impact, causes and factors associated with musculoskeletal impairment in Malawi. We wished to undertake a national cluster randomized survey of musculoskeletal impairment in Malawi, one of the UN Least Developed Countries (LDC), that involved a reliable sampling methodology with a case definition and diagnostic criteria that could clearly be related to the classification system used in the WHO International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF)

A sample size of 1,481 households was calculated using data from the latest national census and an expected prevalence based on similar surveys conducted in Rwanda and Cameroon. We randomly selected clusters across the whole country through probability proportional to size sampling with an urban/rural and demographic split that matched the distribution of the population. In the field, randomization of households in a cluster was based on a ground bottle spin. All household members present were screened, and all MSI cases identified were examined in more detail by medical students under supervision, using a standardized interview and examination protocol. Data collection was carried out from 1st July to 30th August 2016. Extrapolation was done based on study size compared to the population of Malawi. MSI severity was classified using the parameters for the percentage of function outlined in the WHO International Classification of Functioning (ICF). A loss of function of 5–24% was mild, 25–49% was moderate and 50–90% was severe. The Malawian version of the EQ-5D-3L questionnaire was used, and EQ-5D index scores were calculated using population values from Zimbabwe, as a population value set for Malawi is not currently available. Chi-square test was used to test categorical variables. Odds ratio (OR) was calculated with a linear regression model adjusted for age, gender, location and education.

A total of 8,801 individuals were enumerated in 1,481 households. Of the 8,548 participants that were screened and examined (response rate of 97.1%), 810 cases of MSI were diagnosed of which 18% (108) had mild, 54% (329) had moderate and 28% (167) had severe MSI as classified by ICF. There was an overall prevalence of MSI of 9.5% (CI 8.9–10.1). The prevalence of MSI increased with age, and was similar in men (9.3%) and women (9.6%). People without formal education were more likely to have MSI [13.3% (CI 11.8–14.8)] compared to those with formal education levels [8.9% (CI 8.1–9.7), p<0.001] for primary school and [5.9% (4.6–7.2), p<0.001] for secondary school. Overall, 33.2% of MSIs were due to congenital causes, 25.6% were neurological in origin, 19.2% due to acquired non-traumatic non-infective causes, 16.8% due to trauma and 5.2% due to infection. Extrapolation of these findings indicated that there are approximately one million cases of MSI in Malawi that need further treatment. MSI had a profound impact on quality of life. Analysis of disaggregated quality of life measures using EQ-5D showed clear correlation with the ICF class. A large proportion of patients with moderate and severe MSI were confined to bed, unable to wash or undress or unable to perform usual daily activities.

This study has uncovered a high prevalence of MSI in Malawi and its profound impact on a large proportion of the population. These findings suggest that MSI places a considerable strain on social and financial structures in this low-income country. The Quality of Life of those with severe MSI is considerably affected. The huge burden of musculoskeletal impairment in Malawi is mostly unattended, revealing an urgent need to scale up surgical and rehabilitation services in the country.

Establishment of a high-dependency unit in Malawi

Adults admitted to hospital with critical illness are vulnerable and at high risk of morbidity and mortality, especially in sub-Saharan African settings where resources are severely limited. As life expectancy increases, patient demographics and healthcare needs are increasingly complex and require integrated approaches. Patient outcomes could be improved by increased critical care provision that standardises healthcare delivery, provides specialist staff and enhanced patient monitoring and facilitates some treatment modalities for organ support. In Malawi, we established a new high-dependency unit within Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, a tertiary referral centre serving the country’s Southern region. This unit was designed in partnership with managers, clinicians, nurses and patients to address their needs. In this practice piece, we describe a participatory approach to design and implement a sustainable high-dependency unit for a low-income sub-Saharan African setting. This included: prospective agreement on remit, alignment with existing services, refurbishment of a dedicated physical space, recruitment and training of specialist nurses, development of context-sensitive clinical standard operating procedures, purchase of appropriate and durable equipment and creation of digital clinical information systems. As the global COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, we accelerated unit opening in anticipation of increased clinical requirement and describe how the high-dependency unit responded to this demand.

Supply the demand: Assessment of the feasibility of local non-urologists in relieving the burden of chronic indwelling catheters in a low-income country

Introduction: Despite the high prevalence rates of urinary retention in sub-Saharan Africa, regional deficiencies in urological care have culminated in inadequate medical management, and a backlog of urology cases. Our study examined the efficacy and safety of a surgical camp enlisting local non-urologists performing simple open prostatectomy on the rate of chronic catheter usage secondary to urinary retention.

Methods: We reported on a prospective case series of patients with chronic indwelling catheters who underwent open simple prostatectomy during a one-week urology camp in the Machinga District of Malawi. All operations were performed by a locally trained general surgeon and a clinical officer.

Results: Twenty-three (47.9%) of 48 male patients with urinary retention assessed for eligibility for open simple prostatectomy were deemed eligible and underwent the procedure. Of the patients who underwent an open simple prostatectomy, histopathological findings demonstrated benign prostatic hyperplasia in 19 patients (82.6%), while six patients (26.1%) had coincidental malignancy. At postoperative followup, the entire cohort was catheter-free and reported regular sexual activity and the ability to return to work, while 87.0% noted improvements in social integration and 34.8% cited higher self-esteem. Two patients required treatment for infection and one patient experienced fascial dehiscence. Two months following prostatectomy, all patients were catheter-free and able to void independently.

Conclusions: Local surgical practitioners without formal urology training can successfully perform open simple prostatectomy to relieve patients of chronic indwelling catheters and assist in addressing the disease burden in a low-resource setting.

Intestinal Perforations Associated With a High Mortality and Frequent Complications During an Epidemic of Multidrug-resistant Typhoid Fever in Blantyre, Malawi

Typhoid fever remains a major source of morbidity and mortality in low-income settings. Its most feared complication is intestinal perforation. However, due to the paucity of diagnostic facilities in typhoid-endemic settings, including microbiology, histopathology, and radiology, the etiology of intestinal perforation is frequently assumed but rarely confirmed. This poses a challenge for accurately estimating burden of disease.

We recruited a prospective cohort of patients with confirmed intestinal perforation in 2016 and performed enhanced microbiological investigations (blood and tissue culture, plus tissue polymerase chain reaction [PCR] for Salmonella Typhi). In addition, we used a Poisson generalized linear model to estimate excess perforations attributed to the typhoid epidemic, using temporal trends in S. Typhi bloodstream infection and perforated abdominal viscus at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital from 2008–2017.

We recruited 23 patients with intraoperative findings consistent with intestinal perforation. 50% (11/22) of patients recruited were culture or PCR positive for S. Typhi. Case fatality rate from typhoid-associated intestinal perforation was substantial at 18% (2/11). Our statistical model estimates that culture-confirmed cases of typhoid fever lead to an excess of 0.046 perforations per clinical typhoid fever case (95% CI, .03–.06). We therefore estimate that typhoid fever accounts for 43% of all bowel perforation during the period of enhanced surveillance.

The morbidity and mortality associated with typhoid abdominal perforations are high. By placing clinical outcome data from a cohort in the context of longitudinal surgical registers and bacteremia data, we describe a valuable approach to adjusting estimates of the burden of typhoid fever.

Why Do They Leave? Challenges to Retention of Surgical Clinical Officers in District Hospitals in Malawi

Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are the worst affected by a lack of safe and affordable access to safe surgery. The significant unmet surgical need can be in part attributed to surgical workforce shortages that disproportionately affect rural areas of these countries. To combat this, Malawi has introduced a cadre of non-physician clinicians (NPCs) called clinical officers (COs), trained to the level of a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Surgery. This study explored the barriers and enablers to their retention in rural district hospitals (DHs), as perceived by the first cohort of COs trained to BSc in Surgery level in Malawi.

A longitudinal qualitative research approach was used based on interviews with 16 COs, practicing at DHs, during their BSc training (2015); and again with 15 of them after their graduation (2019). Data from both time points were analysed and compared using a top-down thematic analysis approach.

Of the 16 COs interviewed in 2015, 11 intended to take up a post at a DH following graduation; however, only 6 subsequently did so. The major barriers to remaining in a DH post as perceived by these COs were lack of promotion, a more attractive salary elsewhere; and unclear, stagnant career progression within surgery. For those who remained working in DH posts, the main enablers are a willingness to accept a low salary, to generate greater opportunities to engage in additional earning opportunities; the hope of promotional opportunities within the government system; and greater responsibility and recognition of their surgical knowledge and skills as a BSc-holder at the district level.

The sustainability of surgically trained NPCs in Malawi is not assured and further work is required to develop and implement successful retention strategies, which will require a multi-sector approach. This paper provides insights into barriers and enablers to retention of this newly-introduced cadre and has important lessons for policy-makers in Malawi and other countries employing NPCs to deliver essential surgery.

Oxygen availability in sub-Saharan African countries: a call for data to inform service delivery

Oxygen is central to the management of patients admitted to hospital with severe COVID-19. Furthermore, the availability of oxygen therapy is just as important for the management of other patients who are acutely ill. However, despite recognition from most health-care providers that oxygen is a fundamental component of a health-care system, it has not been a focus of health-care delivery in sub-Saharan African countries, as shown by the lack of data collected on oxygen availability.

Delivery Mode for Prolonged, Obstructed Labour Resulting in Obstetric Fistula: A Retrospective Review of 4396 Women in East and Central Africa

Objective: To evaluate the mode of delivery and stillbirth rates over time among women with obstetric fistula.

Design: Retrospective record review.

Setting: Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Zambia and Ethiopia.

Population: A total of 4396 women presenting with obstetric fistulas for repair who delivered previously in facilities between 1990 and 2014.

Methods: Retrospective review of trends and associations between mode of delivery and stillbirth, focusing on caesarean section (CS), assisted vaginal deliveries and spontaneous vaginal deliveries.

Main outcome measures: Mode of delivery, stillbirth.

Results: Out of 4396 women with fistula, 3695 (84.1%) delivered a stillborn baby. Among mothers with fistula giving birth to a stillborn baby, the CS rate (overall 54.8%, 2027/3695) rose from 45% (162/361) in 1990-94 to 64% (331/514) in 2010-14. This increase occurred at the expense of assisted vaginal delivery (overall 18.3%, 676/3695), which declined from 32% (115/361) to 6% (31/514).

Conclusions: In Eastern and Central Africa, CS is increasingly performed on women with obstructed labour whose babies have already died in utero. Contrary to international recommendations, alternatives such as vacuum extraction, forceps and destructive delivery are decreasingly used. Unless uterine rupture is suspected, CS should be avoided in obstructed labour with intrauterine fetal death to avoid complications related to CS scars in subsequent pregnancies. Increasingly, women with obstetric fistula add a history of unnecessary CS to their already grim experiences of prolonged, obstructed labour and stillbirth.

Significant Improvement in Quality of Life Following Surgery for Hydrocoele Caused by Lymphatic Filariasis in Malawi: A Prospective Cohort Study

Lymphatic filariasis (LF) is a mosquito-borne parasitic infection that causes significant disabling and disfiguring clinical manifestations. Hydrocoele (scrotal swelling) is the most common clinical condition, which affects an estimated 25 million men globally. The recommended strategy is surgical intervention, yet little is known about the impact of hydrocoele on men’s lives, and how it may change if they have access to surgery.
Methodology/principal findings
We prospectively recruited and followed-up men who underwent surgery for hydrocoele at six hospitals in an LF endemic area of Malawi in December 2015. Men were interviewed at hospitals pre-surgery and followed-up at 3-months and 6-months post-surgery. Data on demographic characteristics, clinical condition, barriers to surgery, post-surgery symptoms/complications and quality of life indicators were collected and analysed pre- and post-surgery, by age group and stage of disease (mild/moderate vs. severe), using chi-square tests and student’s t test (paired). 201 men were interviewed pre-surgery, 152 at 3-months and 137 at 6-months post-surgery. Most men had unilateral hydrocoeles (65.2%), mild/moderate stages (57.7%) with an average duration of 11.4 years. The most reported cause of hydrocoele was it being sexually transmitted (22.4%), and the main barrier to surgery was the cost (36.3%). Pre-surgery, a significant difference in the scrotum side affected was found by age group (X2 = 5.978, p = 0.05), and men with severe stage hydrocoele reported more problems with their quality of life than those with mild/moderate stage (t = 2.793; p = 0.0006). Post-surgery, around half of the men reported some pain/discomfort (55.9%), swelling (8.6%), bleeding (3.3%) and infection (5.9%), most of which had resolved at 3-months when the most significant improvements in their quality of life were found (t = 21.3902; p = 0.000). Post-surgery at 6 months all men reported no physical, social, psychological problems and took no time off work.
Surgery had a significant positive impact on many aspects of a patient’s life, and the expansion of this treatment to all those affected in LF endemic areas would greatly improve the quality of men’s and their families’ lives, and greatly contribute to the global goal of providing universal health care.