Dr. Aiah Lebbie: Pediatric Surgeon, Sierra Leone

“The need for pediatric surgery in Sierra Leone is huge…children have to travel from all over the country to see me.”

– Dr. Aiah Lebbie

Before the Ebola crisis hit Sierra Leone in 2014, this small West African country was just beginning to recover from a decade-long civil war that ended in 2002 and left much of its infrastructure destroyed. In 2008, there were reported to be only 10 Sierra Leonean surgeons practicing in its entire network of government hospitals, and only 6 individual lightbulbs that worked in all of the surgical dome lights throughout Sierra Leone.

A school destroyed during the civil war. (Photo by Laura Lartigue – USAID)

It was during this time that Dr. Aiah Lebbie came to BethanyKids Kijabe for a pediatric surgery rotation and learned about our pediatric surgeon training program. Dr. Lebbie is from Sierra Leone, but was doing his general surgery training in Cameroon, with the desire to return and help rebuild his country. When he heard about our pediatric surgeon training program, he recalls that “it was a perfect opportunity for me to do something I had always desired to do since medical school” – care for children.

Dr. Lebbie (center) with fellow BethanyKids trainees

Dr. Lebbie graduated from our program in 2013, fully accredited in pediatric surgery, and ready to return to Sierra Leone as its first pediatric surgeon. It was not long after he returned that the Ebola virus began to sweep across the country. He describes how health facilities became places of dread, families were afraid to bring their sick children to hospitals, and hospitals were equally afraid of those infected with the virus. The hospital where Dr. Lebbie worked closed its inpatient admissions wards and halted all surgeries. During this crisis, Dr. Lebbie put aside his specialization, became the infection control coordinator for his hospital, and focused his energy on reducing the spread of the virus.

Dr. Lebbie standing in front of a plaque commemorating two Sierra Leonean surgeons who died during the Ebola epidemic

Four years later, Dr. Lebbie is still the only pediatric surgeon for a population of over 7 million people. His work is broad, ranging from burn contractures and inguinal hernias to spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Children have to travel from all over the country to see him, and he maintains a long waiting list for surgeries. Dr. Lebbie divides his time between three locations: Holy Spirit Hospital in Makeni, where he and his family live, Connaught Hospital in Freetown, and a remote facility in one of the most impoverished districts of the country. He recently added this last site because there are so many families in this region who cannot even afford the trip to see him, let alone the surgery. Through his continued partnership with BethanyKids, Dr. Lebbie is able to provide surgery free of charge to such families in need.

Holy Spirit Hospital in Makeni, and Connaught Hospital in Freetown

When asked about his vision for pediatric care in Sierra Leone, Dr. Lebbie’s simple reply is indicative of his country’s great need: “My vision is a Sierra Leone where children will have access to pediatric surgery.” As a short term response to this need, his plan is bold and creative: start a mobile pediatric surgical service where he can travel to see children in remote places, conducting surgery in the field where possible. In the long term he hopes to facilitate pediatric surgical training within Sierra Leone.

We feel incredibly privileged to partner with doctors like Aiah Lebbie. Dr. Lebbie’s commitment to God’s call and his dedication to Sierra Leone and its children have meant many personal sacrifices for him and his family. Yet these very sacrifices have directly translated into new life for hundreds of children. Join us in praying for Dr. Lebbie, his family, and his country, and watch with us as God continues a good work there.

If you are interested in more specific ways to pray for Dr. Lebbie or help with his work in Sierra Leone, feel free to email us. We would love to connect with you!

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