A normal day at Neema Hospital

Wednesday November 17 2021

#Part 1

Today is a day totally dedicated to the operating room. For the first time I was granted permission to take photographs in the operating block Ruaraka Uhai Neema Hospital of World Friends in Nairobi, Kenya. This is a unique opportunity, which will allow me to observe and document the work of doctors in a more detailed and concrete way.

It is eight in the morning and, with Doctor Antonio Melotto, an orthopedic surgeon who carries out periodic missions to Neema as part of a disability project, I head to the hospital after breakfast in the Guest House. In the operating room – here they call it Teathre – I meet Florence, the surgical head nurse, whom I had already met on previous missions.

Florence looks out at the theatre

In a few minutes I am dressed and together with the team I await the first patient: a ten-year-old girl, with a defect in both feet, which are not at right angles to the leg - a malformation also known as “clubfoot”. It was decided not to operate, but to apply corrective plaster casts. The girl is accompanied into the room by the nurses, made to lie down on the operating table and, to my great amazement, anesthetized. A few moments later I immediately understand that the corrective operation would not have been possible without anesthesia: Antonio must in fact apply a lot of force to position his feet in the correct position in relation to the leg. The casts necessary to maintain the correct position of the limbs are then placed. The operation ended after about an hour of work. The young patient is then transferred to an adjacent room, to be observed while waiting for the anesthesia to wear off.

Then a child arrives in the room: he is a little suspicious but very intrigued by my strange camera. I try to calm him down and talk to him a little, and he immediately starts laughing. However, he immediately bursts into tears when Antonio begins to treat him: the little boy had been operated on a few days earlier due to several burns (on his head, arms...) which he suffered following an accident in a shack in Korogocho, one of the many slums of Nairobi. This type of injury is unfortunately very common in city slums, where the safety and health of mothers and children is often at risk due to environmental and social factors.

In the meantime, having left the operating room, I can't help but notice the little girl who had undergone surgery shortly before. Her face took on a desperate expression when she woke up to find that both of her legs were in casts. I try to put myself in her shoes: her unhappiness is probably linked to the fact that she will have to live with her casts for some time. However, the operation was performed successfully and she will be able to walk correctly after her recovery.

Dr. Melotto while operating at the RU Neema Hospital


Shortly afterwards, Doctor Gianfranco Morino, founding member of World Friends and Kenya coordinator, arrives and has to perform a breast biopsy on a woman of around forty years of age. The operating rooms at Neema are in fact used to carry out a wide range of operations, not just orthopedic. Antonio helps Gianfranco during the operation and I observe them, so engrossed in their work that they have been doing with passion for more than thirty years.

Then a boy of about twenty years old arrives for the removal of a cyst on the palm of his hand. The operation is not particularly long and the boy leaves the room without problems.

Time passes quickly. The photographer's work in an operating room is not a trivial task. I believe that it is essential to respect the patient and her condition, avoiding increasing the discomfort that we all feel when we feel vulnerable. For this reason I try to establish a relationship with the patient himself: a few words exchanged before the operation begins, a smile, are sometimes sufficient gestures to relax an already tense atmosphere. However, it is also essential not to hinder in any way the work of the dining room staff, who are fighting against time to carry out sometimes risky operations. Finally, for the doctors' work to be clear to those who observe the photographs, it is necessary to build an understandable narrative of what happens in the operating room. We must be able to respect all these points, otherwise the photographer's work will be completely in vain.

Photo by Marco Leoncino.

Related Posts

2 thoughts on "A normal day at Neema Hospital"

  1. Chiara said:

    Nice report! It is very interesting to put one's art at the service of telling and disseminating what one experiences and revolves around the Neema Hospital. It is a delicate task, that of being able to maintain due respect without intrusiveness, but the result can be seen. Black and white convey the depth of the stories people experience

    1. slumWF said:

      Thank you very much Chiara, we are very happy that you liked it!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *