Young hospital patients find solace between the pages of a book

A charity initiative to have a children’s library in every hospital in the emirate is a new concept and has been hailed as a “huge breakthrough” in paediatric care.

Saeed Salem, 8, enjoys a book the children’s library at Mafraq Hospital, Abu Dhabi. Sheikha Shamma has been setting up libraries for young patients in all the hospitals around the country as part of the Wanna Read? initiative. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // Healthcare services for children have been taken to another level by a charity project to have a library in every Abu Dhabi hospital, doctors and specialists say.

The programme was hailed a major breakthrough in paediatric care.

Dr Laila Obaid, chief of neonatal services and director of the paediatric residency programme at Mafraq Hospital, said the library – part of the Wanna Read? charity created by Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nayhan – has brought many benefits for patients and their families since its launch in 2013.

Although still at its initial stages, the room, she said, has helped make visits to hospitals a “positive experience” for children.

“Any negative effect like coming into a new environment can negatively affect a child’s growth and development so, as physicians, we want to make the experience positive for the parent and the patient.”

To most children, she said, hospital visits are “scary and they associate it with bright lights, bitter medication and painful procedures”.

The Wanna Read? initiative has helped change that.

“When a child comes in and sees the colourful room and all the books, they are immediately more comfortable and the experience of visiting a hospital becomes a positive one. They get to interact with other kids and feel at home,” she said.

Angela Ansell, assistant director of nursing, said: “Generally in the emirates, hospital care is very medicalised. People feel like that they need to come to the hospital to have a procedure done to make them feel better, so the concept of alternative therapy is still quite new.”

The initiative has also helped doctors make medical assessments and take critical decisions on a patient’s treatment plan.

“It is difficult to assess the pain a child feels if they are too afraid to speak to you, when they have the ‘white coat syndrome’, and are afraid when they see a doctor. This (Wanna Read room) is an area where they are relaxed and happy, which helps us make a better assessment,” Ms Ansell said.

There are Wanna Read? rooms at Mafraq, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Al Ain Hospital and Al Rahba Hospitals. Each has hundreds of children books in Arabic and English.

During their time at the hospital, paediatric patients have the freedom to visit and sit with their caregiver to read. Through these books, hospital staff and parents said that they have managed to reach out to children.

One parent is 36-year-old Maryam Mohsen. Mrs Mohsen’s son, Saeed Salem, eight, is a frequent patient at the paediatric ward at Mafraq. He suffers from isovaleric acidemia – a genetic disorder that affects the metabolism.

“When he was younger, we would be in the hospital for months and my son became very depressed. He hated being stuck in a depressing hospital room away from his siblings,” Mrs Mohsen said.

She said that because Saeed had spent so much time in the hospital, he had few friends and was antisocial but that changed after Wanna Read? opened in Mafraq.

“He will sit next to me and look through the books and start talking about the characters. After being discharged he goes home and tells his siblings all about the books he has read. He is happy and looks forward to coming to the hospital,” she said with a laugh.

For the paediatric ward it is not only about the patients, said Dr Obaid.

“It is also about the family. We want mothers and families to also spend quality time with their children and what’s better that sitting together and reading a book,” she said.

Currently, patients can only visit the library when a member of the nursing staff is available and has volunteered to supervise and assist the child in the library.

However, a volunteering programme will soon be introduced in which members of the public can come into the hospital and read to the children. Deputy chief nursing officer Zulaikha Al Hosani did not specify when the programme will be introduced but hoped that it would be “very soon”.

“The whole volunteer programme is based on having enough resources internally to supervise. It’s a cautious step.”

Volunteers, she said, will first have to be vetted and trained in dealing with paediatric patients.

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