LESOTHO – Lesotho is set to open an ultramodern eight-bed intensive care unit (ICU) at Mafeteng Hospital in southwestern Lesotho that will feature a ventilator with piped oxygen, a dedicated wing for COVID-19 patients along with an on-site oxygen plant to boost patients’ access to specialized treatment.

The project aims to increase intensive care unit beds to 36 spaces located at various hospitals across the country, adding five to 10 beds per year, along with more medical training in critical care to address weaknesses in Lesotho’s healthcare exposed at the onset of COVID-19.

Earlier, the government conducted a countrywide assessment including the level of capacity for ICUs and the findings identified only ten beds at private facility which was prohibitively expensive for most of the population.

ICU teams are multi-disciplinary, made up of highly skilled intensive care nurses, doctors and specialists trained in providing critical care for patients with a variety of medical, surgical and trauma conditions.

The new intensive care units at public hospitals aims to alleviate the care burden of trauma, diabetes, obstetric complications, HIV-related complications and current COVID-19 cases as well as ensure critical care patients in Lesotho save on energy, costs and time used to travel to South Africa to receive treatment.

In addition, Lesotho is offering theoretical and practical trainings to healthcare professionals to further build on high-quality critical care capacity as well as meet ICU needs including treatment of traumatic brain injuries which are common in the area.

The Government of Lesotho has partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to train doctors and nurses who will operate the new unit funded by the World Bank and ultimately the health professionals will become WHO-certified trainers themselves as the intensive care unit project expands.

Five Ministry of Health staff including two doctors and three nurses have been receiving training in admission criteria, oxygen therapy, high flow therapy, invasive mechanical ventilation, non-invasive mechanical ventilation, drugs management and COVID-19 critical and severe case management.

The intensive care units seek to address limited access to health facilities, relatively high occurrence of maternal and child related emergencies and even deaths due to lack of critical care skills for the obstetric patients.

Medical officer at Mafeteng Hospital Dr Senate Mathaha stressed that taking care of ICU patients requires various special skills coupled with dedication and meticulous attention to detail, noting that specialized treatment involves central line insertion, intubation and operating advanced machines.

Moreover, COVID-19 highlighted the gap in the treatment of severe forms of different diseases across Lesotho hence the ICUs will be integrated into a universal health system to handle COVID-19 cases and illnesses that can develop into severe forms in government’s efforts to close the health equity gap.

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