The Kigali University Teaching Hospital’s Pediatric Department is a facility that caters for more than just the medical aspect during children recuperation.
Here you will find recuperating children sitting in a small room decorated in bright colours and animal characters painted across the walls and a social worker reading children’s books to them, playing with them or watching children’s movies and cartoons.
Other times, they just play with the assortment of toys that sit in the baby proofed cabinets under the social workers supervision.
Though it may seem like ordinary child’s play, it is all part of a new initiative the hospital has employed for the last one year, play therapy.
Play therapy, also referred to as ‘distraction therapy,’ seeks to engage children in social activities that will distract them from pain as they recuperate from the various illnesses.
The therapy compliments medication and helps ease shock and trauma amongst the recuperating young ones. It is through the therapy that children at times forget their pain and illness as they engage in fun activities.
Antoinette Mukandanga, the matron at the Pediatric department, notes an improvement since the inception of the project.
“Previously recovering children would spend time bed ridden and dormant which at times added to their illnesses and left them depressed. But since its inception, the children are occupied and tend to put away their illnesses and engage in activities they consider fun.”
“Most of the cases we receive are chronic cases. The children are usually in pain and very uncomfortable, but the play therapy has brought a new approach to complement medical efforts.”
Out of a bed capacity of 80 patients, at least 80 per cent of the children go through the therapy with a social worker present to engage them all day.
“We have daily programmes that keep them engaged all day, in the morning after the doctors’ rounds, they come in and I read to them children’s books and engage in word play.
The books are in Kinyarwanda, French and few of them in English. Later on we play games around the room from legos to jigsaw puzzles to light ball games. In the afternoons we watch child friendly TV programmes and cartoons,” Janvier Nduhungirehe, the social worker breaks down their routine.
“As long as the child can leave the bed, they are free to come in. Most of them are usually between three and five years but we have no age limits,” Nduhungire explains.
The brains behind the project is Solid Africa, whose president, Isabella Kamaliza, was recently awarded by Imbuto Foundation for her efforts in mobilising help for vulnerable people.
“We had been working with CHUK on a programme to feed patients and help them with their medical bills when we noted a need; children would be seen playing at their bedsides or by the hospital verandahs. We wanted to come up with something to keep them busy as they were recuperating to keep their mind off the pain,” Kamaliza said.
“By stroke of luck two American students, Claire Wagner and Cameron Nutt from Dartmouth College who had been carrying out research in the country with the Ministry of Health were awarded $5,000 by their school and asked us if we had a project to implement,” she recalls.
Kamaliza said they had been trying to raise funds to build a facility for child therapy but the hospital offered them a room to rehabilitate. And from there, everything fell into place.
Though the project has been a huge success, Solid Africa looks at it as a pilot study, “to see it’s feasibility before we can approach the Ministry of Health to recommend that the initiative be rolled out in other hospitals.”
“We wanted to have a basis of our argument before presenting it to the ministry, we wanted to be sure it is effective before we can recommend it because it is the first ever in the country,” Kamaliza says.
“Now that we have proven that it is effective and doctors and experts have spoken highly of it, we will go ahead and recommend it.”
Nathan Mugume, the head of Rwanda Health Communication Centre said the Ministry recognises the role of Play Therapy and child friendly environment have on children during treatment.
“We have been working to ensure that all hospitals that have Pediatric wards have child friendly facilities to ensure that children feel at home and are comfortable as they receive treatment,” he said yesterday. “It is an ongoing process as we seek to improve what we have and see to it that we have more facilities and space for children. We have it in our plans to keep putting up play therapy facilities.”
Play therapy is just one of the many initiatives the organisation has been involved in at the hospital. They also assist in feeding patients in the pediatric department daily, by providing milk, eggs and fruits to those admitted. “In the future we are looking to put up a kitchen that can feed up to 1,000 patients in hospitals around the country beginning with CHUK. For now we are ready to work with individuals and corporations willing to play a part in child therapy,” Kamaliza explains.
Dr Emmanuel Rusingiza, a pediatrician at the hospital, explains that playing should be a key component to ensure children’s comfort as they recuperate.
“It increases their likelihood of positive reaction to medication. It is important in their social and mental side of recuperation as some are traumatised by their illness. A play therapy facility should be present at Pediatric departments and facilities that deal with children.”
Mukandanga says in the future they hope to expand the facility as they have seen it’s effectiveness and would encourage the Ministry of Health to include a play therapy facilities in their plans to the level of district hospitals.
Play therapy eases pain for children admitted at CHUK