THE GREAT PYRAMID

Zambia 2014 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Lackson Kasonka, Managing Director and Senior Med. Superintendent at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH), on the role of the institution and the fight against communicable diseases.

Dr. Lackson Kasonka
BIOGRAPHY
Jackson Kasonka is an Obstetrician and Gynecologist and did his undergraduate studies in Ukraine in Donetsk in 1992. He then specialized in the same field at the University of Zambia. Then he obtained an MBA from Mancosa University in South Africa. He is a researcher on nutrition- and maternity-related studies. He is currently the Managing Director and Senior Med. Superintendent at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH).

What is the importance of University Teaching Hospital (UTH) for Zambia's healthcare system?

This is the biggest hospital in Zambia, with a 1,837 bed capacity and a staff complement of 3,126. It's a national welfare hospital, the target of which is to serve the entire country. Basically, the design of this hospital is at the top of the pyramid, meaning that patients are referred to it from other neighboring hospitals, district hospitals, provincial hospitals, and all the way down to the health post. All these facilities refer patients to this hospital for challenging complications that may afflict our citizens.

What are the main challenges you face in running such a big institution?

The size of the hospital means that people with challenging conditions have to come here, so public expectations are enormously high. Those with very complicated conditions, when they get a reference to this hospital, see hope that they are coming for treatment here. That means that among our challenges is that this is the last stop for patients coming from all corners of this country. Furthermore, the population of Lusaka alone has expanded over the years, with the immigration of people from rural to urban areas. This has seen the population of Lusaka expand rapidly in the past decades. This rapid expansion has actually overtaken the size of the hospital's expansion, which means the hospitals have the same number of beds even though the population of Lusaka has grown so rapidly. In order to cope with this challenge, we run our operating theatres 24 hours a day for emergencies. We perform on average close to 66 planned operations a day, and 65 to 70 deliveries over a 24-hour period in the maternity program. UTH is a very busy institution.

What steps are you taking to fight HIV in Zambia?

We are in a part of Africa that is still afflicted by communicable diseases including malaria, TB, and HIV. In Sub-Saharan Africa, there is a fair share of HIV cases, and Zambia has not been spared. However, I am happy to say that our partners, including the Ministry of Health, have put in measures to try to minimize the impact. You can see that the epidemic has stabilized, meaning that we are not getting worse with regards to transmission rates. We've made a lot of progress in controlling malaria in Zambia, and I think that it is on an international platform standing to showcase how much our antimalarial drive has been successful. And we are very hopeful that in the coming years we can stand in international forums and show how much similar progress we have made in the fight against HIV. We are very thankful to numerous global funds and foreign aid agencies. We receive substantial funding and support from foreign aid agencies, and in collaboration with our Ministry of Health we get enormous support, which has made this treatment free of charge to our patients.

What is the status of your efforts to fight malaria?

Malaria until recently was the biggest public health concern, even before we started to think about HIV the way we do today, we look at two decades back. As we are born and growing up we just had to get infected with malaria, and that way was good because we obtained immunity that way. It was so common that it was the biggest killer at the time, and it was the most dreaded disease. Many lives were lost to malaria before these treatment programs were improved—a lot of our people succumbed to malaria. Not to mean that it has been completely eradicated, as we believe that it will be around for a few more years to come. It is an eradicable disease, and we are hoping that in the coming years we should be able to completely eradicate it.