Evaluation of a digital triage platform in Uganda: A quality improvement initiative to reduce the time to antibiotic administration

Sepsis is the leading cause of death in children under five in low- and middle-income countries. The rapid identification of the sickest children and timely antibiotic administration may improve outcomes. We developed and implemented a digital triage platform to rapidly identify critically ill children to facilitate timely intravenous antibiotic administration.

This quality improvement initiative sought to reduce the time to antibiotic administration at a dedicated children’s hospital outpatient department in Mbarara, Uganda.

Intervention and study design
The digital platform consisted of a mobile application that collects clinical signs, symptoms, and vital signs to prioritize children through a combination of emergency triggers and predictive risk algorithms. A computer-based dashboard enabled the prioritization of children by displaying an overview of all children and their triage categories. We evaluated the impact of the digital triage platform over an 11-week pre-implementation phase and an 11-week post-implementation phase. The time from the end of triage to antibiotic administration was compared to evaluate the quality improvement initiative.

There was a difference of -11 minutes (95% CI, -16.0 to -6.0; p < 0.001; Mann-Whitney U test) in time to antibiotics, from 51 minutes (IQR, 27.0–94.0) pre-implementation to 44 minutes (IQR, 19.0–74.0) post-implementation. Children prioritized as emergency received the greatest time benefit (-34 minutes; 95% CI, -9.0 to -58.0; p < 0.001; Mann-Whitney U test). The proportion of children who waited more than an hour until antibiotics decreased by 21.4% (p = 0.007). Conclusion A data-driven patient prioritization and continuous feedback for healthcare workers enabled by a digital triage platform led to expedited antibiotic therapy for critically ill children with sepsis. This platform may have a more significant impact in facilities without existing triage processes and prioritization of treatments, as is commonly encountered in low resource settings.

Impact of nursing education and a monitoring tool on outcomes in traumatic brain injury

Throughout the world, traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. Low-and middle-income countries experience an especially high burden of TBI. While guidelines for TBI management exist in high income countries, little is known about the optimal management of TBI in low resource settings. Prevention of secondary injuries is feasible in these settings and has potential to improve mortality.

A pragmatic quasi-experimental study was conducted in the emergency centre (EC) of Mulago National Referral Hospital to evaluate the impact of TBI nursing education and use of a monitoring tool on mortality. Over 24 months, data was collected on 541 patients with moderate (GCS9-13) to severe (GCS≤8) TBI. The primary outcome was in-hospital mortality and secondary outcomes included time to imaging, time to surgical intervention, time to advanced airway, length of stay and number of vital signs recorded.

Data were collected on 286 patients before the intervention and 255 after. Unadjusted mortality was higher in the post-intervention group but appeared to be related to severity of TBI, not the intervention itself. Apart from number of vital signs, secondary outcomes did not differ significantly between groups. In the post-intervention group, vital signs were recorded an average of 2.85 times compared to 0.49 in the pre-intervention group (95% CI 2.08-2.62, p ≤ 0.001). The median time interval between vital signs in the post-intervention group was 4.5 h (IQR 2.1-10.6).

Monitoring of vital signs in the EC improved with nursing education and use of a monitoring tool, however, there was no detectable impact on mortality. The high mortality among patients with TBI underscores the need for treatment strategies that can be implemented in low resource settings. Promising approaches include improved monitoring, organized trauma systems and protocols with an emphasis on early aggressive care and primary prevention.

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.

Pattern of Peri-Operative Antibiotic Use among Surgical Patients in a Regional Referral and Teaching Hospital in Uganda

Background: Prolonged surgical antimicrobial prophylaxis (SAP) to prevent surgical site infection (SSI) is generally discouraged after completion of surgery. However, little is known about the pattern of peri-operative antibiotic use in resource-limited settings. We aimed to describe its use at a typical government hospital in Uganda. Methods: A study was originally conducted in a rural Ugandan regional referral and teaching hospital in 2014 and 2015 to improve hand hygiene practice and measure its impact on health-care-associated infections including SSI (WardGel study). This is a secondary analysis of the data from the WardGel study to assess the frequency of peri-operative antibiotic use among surgical patients. Results: Of 3,627 patients enrolled into the original study, 960 (26.5%) underwent surgery at the hospital and 907 patients (94.5%) received antibiotic agents during hospitalization. Of these, 880 patients (97.0%, of 907 patients) received antibiotic agents on the day of surgery. A combination of ceftriaxone and metronidazole was the most common regimen (609/907 patients, 67.1%). Thirty-six of 907 patients (4.0%) started and completed their antibiotic agents on the day of surgery. The mean length of antibiotic use during hospitalization was 3.5 days (standard deviation, 3.3). After adjusting for covariates, linear regression analysis showed an extra 1.9 days of antibiotic use post-operatively (95% confidence interval = 1.7-2.3). During the total 4,960 inpatient-days for those having surgery, there were 6,503 days of therapy (DOTs) of antibiotic agents and 1,649 antibiotic-free days (AFDs). Conclusions: Most patients received prolonged antibiotic therapy after surgery. Antimicrobial stewardship for SAP can play a major role in combating antimicrobial resistance in resource-limited settings.

Reducing Gastroschisis Mortality: A Quality Improvement Initiative at a Ugandan Pediatric Surgery Unit

Introduction: With modern treatment, survival of gastroschisis exceeds 90% in high-income countries. Survival in these countries has been largely attributed to prenatal diagnosis, delivery at tertiary facilities with timely resuscitation, timely intervention, parenteral nutrition and intensive care facilities. In sub-Saharan Africa, due to lack of these facilities, mortality rates are still alarmingly high ranging from 75 to 100%. In Uganda the mortality is 98%.

Aim: The aim of this study was to reduce gastroschisis mortality in a feasible, sustainable way using a locally derived gastroschisis care protocol at a referring hospital in Western Uganda.

Methods: Data collection was performed from January to October 2018. Nursing staff were interviewed regarding the survival and management of gastroschisis babies. A locally derived protocol was created with staff input and commitment from all the team members.

Results: Four mothers absconded and 17 babies were cared for using the newly designed protocol. Seven survived and were well at one month post discharge follow-up, reducing the mortality for this condition from 98 to 59%.

Conclusion: A dedicated team with minimal resources can significantly reduce the mortality in gastroschisis by almost 40% using a locally derived protocol.

Availability, procurement, training, usage, maintenance and complications of electrosurgical units and laparoscopic equipment in 12 African countries

Background: Strategies are needed to increase the availability of surgical equipment in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This study was undertaken to explore the current availability, procurement, training, usage, maintenance and complications encountered during use of electrosurgical units (ESUs) and laparoscopic equipment.

Methods: A survey was conducted among surgeons attending the annual meeting of the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA) in December 2017 and the annual meeting of the Surgical Society of Kenya (SSK) in March 2018. Biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) were surveyed and maintenance records collected in Kenya between February and March 2018.

Results: Among 80 participants, there were 59 surgeons from 12 African countries and 21 BMETs from Kenya. Thirty-six maintenance records were collected. ESUs were available for all COSECSA and SSK surgeons, but only 49 per cent (29 of 59) had access to working laparoscopic equipment. Reuse of disposable ESU accessories and difficulties obtaining carbon dioxide were identified. More than three-quarters of surgeons (79 per cent) indicated that maintenance of ESUs was available, but only 59 per cent (16 of 27) confirmed maintenance of laparoscopic equipment at their centre.

Conclusion: Despite the availability of surgical equipment, significant gaps in access to maintenance were apparent in these LMICs, limiting implementation of open and laparoscopic surgery.

Burden of emergency pediatric surgical procedures on surgical capacity in Uganda: a new metric for health system performance

Background: The significant burden of emergency operations in low- and middle-income countries can overwhelm surgical capacity leading to a backlog of elective surgical cases. The purpose of this investigation was to determine the burden of emergency procedures on pediatric surgical capacity in Uganda and to determine health metrics that capture surgical backlog and effective coverage of children’s surgical disease in low- and middle-income countries.

Methods: We reviewed 2 independent and prospectively collected databases on pediatric surgical admissions at Mulago National Referral Hospital and Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital in Uganda. Pediatric surgical patients admitted at either hospital between October 2015 to June 2017 were included. Our primary outcome was the distribution of surgical acuity and associated mortality.

Results: A combined total of 1,930 patients were treated at the two hospitals, and 1,110 surgical procedures were performed. There were 571 emergency cases (51.6%), 108 urgent cases (9.7%), and 429 elective cases (38.6%). Overall mortality correlated with surgical acuity. Emergency intestinal diversions for colorectal congenital malformations (anorectal malformations and Hirschsprung’s disease) to elective definitive repair was 3:1. Additionally, 30% of inguinal hernias were incarcerated or strangulated at time of repair.

Conclusion: Emergency and urgent operations utilize the majority of operative resources for pediatric surgery groups in low- and middle-income countries, leading to a backlog of complex congenital procedures. We propose the ratio of emergency diversion to elective repair of colorectal congenital malformations and the ratio of emergency to elective repair of inguinal hernias as effective health metrics to track this backlog. Surgical capacity for pediatric conditions should be increased in Uganda to prevent a backlog of elective cases.

Rural and urban differences in treatment status among children with surgical conditions in Uganda.

In low and middle-income countries, approximately 85% of children have a surgically treatable condition before the age of 15. Within these countries, the burden of pediatric surgical conditions falls heaviest on those in rural areas. The objective of the current study was to evaluate the relationship between rurality, surgical condition and treatment status among a cohort of Ugandan children.

We identified 2176 children from 2315 households throughout Uganda using the Surgeons OverSeas Assessment of Surgical Need (SOSAS) survey. Children were randomly selected and were included in the study if they were 18 years of age or younger and had a surgical condition. Location of residence, surgical condition, and treatment status was compared among children.

Of the 305 children identified with surgical conditions, 81.9% lived in rural areas. The most prevalent causes of surgical conditions reported among rural and urban children were masses (24.0% and 25.5%, respectively), followed by wounds due to injury (19.6% and 16.4%, respectively). Among children with untreated surgical conditions, 79.1% reside in rural areas while 20.9% reside in urban areas. Among children with untreated surgical conditions, the leading reason for not seeking surgical care among children living in both rural and urban areas was a lack of money (40.6% and 31.4%, respectively), and the leading reason for not receiving care in both rural and urban settings was a lack of money (48.0% and 42.8%, respectively).

Our data suggest that over half of the children with a surgical condition surveyed are not receiving surgical care and a large majority of children with surgical needs were living in rural areas. Future interventions aimed at increasing surgical access in rural areas in low-income countries are needed.

Pioneering endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography in a Sub Saharan African hospital: A case series

Background and study aims
Although endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) was introduced in Europe, Asia and America over four decades ago, East Africa and Africa as a whole has been slow in taking up this very important minimally invasive procedure for the management of various hepatopancreaticobiliary conditions. This has led to reliance on open surgery for even simple benign biliary strictures, stones and malignant causes of biliary and pancreatic duct obstruction that can be treated endoscopically without a need for a morbid open surgical intervention. In Uganda, ERCP was introduced in January 2017 after obtaining training and equipment support from Senior Experten Service (SES), German. We therefore report the first six cases of ERCP performed at our endoscopy unit.

Patients and methods
This is a case series report of six patients referred with yellowing of eyes and body itching as the main complaints. They predominantly had raised gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT), alkaline phosphatase (ALP), total bilirubin and direct bilirubin. They also had different imaging investigations demonstrating hepatic ducts dilatation.

Four out of the six patients had complete post ERCP symptom resolution. One patient had partial symptom resolution and the other patient recovered after conversion to open surgery.

Collaborative skills transfer made ERCP feasible in our institute and this marked the start of this specialised service in Uganda.

Demand and capacity to integrate pelvic organ prolapse and genital fistula services in low-resource settings.

There is a need for expanded access to safe surgical care in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) as illustrated by the report of the 2015 Lancet Commission on Global Surgery. Packages of closely-related surgical procedures may create platforms of capacity that maximize impact in LMIC. Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) and genital fistula care provide an example. Although POP affects many more women in LMICs than fistula, donor support for fistula treatment in LMICs has been underway for decades, whereas treatment for POP is usually limited to hysterectomy-based surgical treatment, occurring with little to no donor support. This capacity-building discrepancy has resulted in POP care that is often non-adherent to international standards and in non-integration of POP and fistula services, despite clear areas of similarity and overlap. The objective of this study was to assess the feasibility and potential value of integrating POP services at fistula centers.

Fistula repair sites supported by the Fistula Care Plus project were surveyed on current demand for and capacity to provide POP, in addition to perceptions about integrating POP and fistula repair services.

Respondents from 26 hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia completed the survey. Most fistula centers (92%) reported demand for POP services, but many cannot meet this demand. Responses indicated a wide variation in assessment and grading practices for POP; approaches to lower urinary tract symptom evaluation; and surgical skills with regard to compartment-based POP, and urinary and rectal incontinence. Fistula surgeons identified integration synergies but also potential conflicts.

Integration of genital fistula and POP services may enhance the quality of POP care while increasing the sustainability of fistula care.