When Dr Jeska Wambani Sidika got the call that she had been picked as the new Chief Executive Officer of Mater Hospital she got a little anxious.
She had never worked at Mater Hospital before having just retired as a chief medical specialist at Kenyatta National Hospital, a place where she had been for 35 years.
Her first action was to visit the hospital and to look around.
“I decided to come to the hospital as a visitor. I went to the outpatient and casualty department, looked around asked some questions to the staff. The staff members I talked to were kind. They asked how they could help me and where I wanted to go but I told them I just wanted to know the services the hospital offered,” she says.
She finally took up the job on July 1 and already the changes of having a CEO with a strong medical background are being felt.
Her day at the hospital starts at 7AM with briefings with the managers of the different departments. This means that she has to leave her home in Lower Kabete very early in the morning in order to beat the traffic.
“I introduced the management briefings in Mater Hospital. Of course the managers were not used to coming that early but now they have to be here,” she says.
Because she has a medical background, Dr Sidika is at home in the hospital environment and has a keen interest in whatever goes on in the provision of healthcare in the hospital.
“I have been trying to put into place administrative clinical practice in the hospital. As a doctor, I am trained all round in administration as well as in clinical practice. If someone in surgery tells me they need something, I already know the urgency of the item. If somebody in internal medicine a problem we have, I already know how it can be sorted,” she says.
What does she bring to Mater
Dr Sidika has for the longest time been the only trained pediatric radiologist in the country, having trained in Koln, Germany in the early 90’s.
“I did my first and second degree at the University Nairobi. I specialized in Imaging Science i.e. Radiation Medicine. I specialized in pediatric radiology and I had to go to Germany at the Koln University children’s hospital,” she says.
According to Dr Sidika, the reason she has been alone in the field for so long could be that children don’t earn and many people think about getting a lot of money from their skill.
“While working at Kenyatta where I did my internship, I realized that children were not being taken care of and very few people were specializing in children medicine. That is why I actually decided to do pediatric radiology after my masters in radiology,” she says.
“I realized the most disadvantaged people are children and mothers in terms of healthcare. That’s why I concentrated on maternal and child health and I stayed on in Kenyatta National Hospital as a super specialist in imaging and diagnosing disease early in children. My passion was to see children benefit from proper imaging and proper diagnosis,” she says.
Her career path is dotted with a lot of social responsibility and extra career activities. She was one of the youngest doctors to join the Kenya Medical Women Association when it just started and in 1998 became the national chairperson.
She was also the chairperson at the Radiation Protection Board of Kenya — a government regulatory body on the use of radiation equipment that is the x-ray equipment – staying at the helm of the board for ten years.
While on the board, she got to go to Vienna for the international atomic agency general meetings and conferences. During that time she helped the government to set standards in x-rays across the country.
“I was able to do research and see beneficial ways of diagnosing disease so that the imaging is beneficial and less risky to the patient. I did a lot of research especially in children and I came up with what we call Diagnostic Reference Levels,” she says.
In the whole world she is the only person who has done extensive study of every part of a child. That earned her a lot of international recognition in the radiation medicine and she was nominated as the inaugural chair for the forum for radiation regulation in the African region.
She became an expert who could be called on for trainings and she helped a lot of African countries to develop their own regulations.
In February 2016 she was in Portugal under the sponsorship of WHO to help the European countries set their own diagnostic levels in children.
What stands out at Mater Hospital?
For the time she has been CEO at Mater Hospital, Dr Sidika says she has been impressed by the compassion from the members of the staff and the fact that there is a chapel where you can go pray and that the chaplains are available within the hospital.
“The priests stay here and when you need prayers they are available. It is holistic in that whether you are a Christian or non-Christian they still pray for you. They’ll still visit you, bless and make you feel that God is there,” she says.
She also notes that the hospital is very clean.
“It is very clean. When you walk in you don’t smell medicine — the smell you would get of either penicillin or other medicines. There’s nothing that tells you that you are in a hospital,” she says.
Vision for Mater Hospital
“When I came in I was so excited and was keen in knowing about the cardiac program. I had heard so much about the mater heart run but I had never participated because I was busy in Kenyatta,” she says.
She adds that open heart surgeries and the cardiac program are some of the things that convinced her to take up the job. She hopes to help advance the program by expanding the ICU unit.
“Currently the Mater Hospital has an ICU and HDU capacity of 18 beds. If we could get the funds we can increase that to 50-bed ICU with a floor that would take care of children, another floor for men, women and specialized cases like cardiac operations,” she says.
Currently the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), through Global Health has pledged to help contribute some funds to cater for some needy children who require cardiac surgeries as part of celebrating 50 years of service in the country.
She also hopes to see the cardiac program in the future extend to other countries in the region.
Spiraling Cost of Health Care
While noting that healthcare is universal she says the difference in costs comes in because some institutions are able to make the treatment more comfortable and therefore get extra money from their clients.
“The bed would be having sparkling white sheets and the room would be cleaned 10 times in a day whether the room is dusty or not. The primary core thing is universal. If you are able to deal with that with that universal problem let’s say treat malaria then the other thing are just additional. They just make the price more. The primary thing is the skill and the universality of the treatment,” she says.
She however notes that healthcare is expensive everywhere and will remain so especially in Africa for as long as we don’t manufacture our medicine, equipment.
“In Africa, we have a lot of people who are sick; we are still having disease, illiteracy and poverty. As long as we are not manufacturing drugs, putting in skilled labour health care will still be expensive,” she says.
“Because medical care is universal, the same equipment you see in this hospital is the same one used in Europe and America. Those people have invested in health so majority of their people are not so sick,”
“We have failed to eliminate malaria, communicable disease vector borne diseases are still with us. That pushes the health bill up and because of those drugs and equipment come from outside, coupled with the disease burden that makes health very expensive,” she concludes.
Dr Sidika was born at Kaimosi Hospital and grew up in the rural areas in Vihiga, Kakamega. She went to school in the rural area in Vihiga before join in Alliance Girls 1970 to 1975.
She joined the University of Nairobi and did her undergraduate in Medicine and Post graduate in radiology.
She is married to Dr Wambani a eurologists and has two children Linda and Brian.
She is also the chair of Pumwani Maternity Hospital board.
She is currently working on a project on breast cancer screening to develop a screening program for the country.
By Lourine Olouch
THE SEED MAGAZINE