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Healthcare in Africa

By Vision Reporter

Added 21st October 2003 03:00 AM

Letter from Toronto

BED-RIDDEN, I have some thoughts about Healthcare in Africa.
Three weeks ago, my family doctor (Ugandan-born and trained) diagnosed an inguinal hernia, in the right groin area and recommended surgery. There is a lot written about hernias on the internet and yo

Letter from Toronto

BED-RIDDEN, I have some thoughts about Healthcare in Africa.
Three weeks ago, my family doctor (Ugandan-born and trained) diagnosed an inguinal hernia, in the right groin area and recommended surgery. There is a lot written about hernias on the internet and yo

Letter from Toronto

By Opiyo Oloya

BED-RIDDEN, I have some thoughts about Healthcare in Africa.
Three weeks ago, my family doctor (Ugandan-born and trained) diagnosed an inguinal hernia, in the right groin area and recommended surgery. There is a lot written about hernias on the internet and you can learn all sorts of things.

Hernia, a medical condition that afflicts all ages and sexes, occurs when a sac containing tissue protrudes through an opening in the weakened or ripped muscles of the abdominal wall.

Though any part of the abdominal wall can develop a hernia, over 80% of hernias grow in the groin area. An early 20th century picture from a British medical website shows men from the Southern African region lugging hernia sacs as large as footballs. Over half-a-million Americans were treated for hernia last year.

Tomorrow, Thursday, though still understandably sore 72 hours after my surgery, I will say goodbye to Room 227 at Shouldice Hospital, north of Toronto. The operation, itself a fairly routine affair that took about 30 minutes under local anaesthesia, will be a faint memory. Yet, there were two aspects that made this experience stand out for me. First, 22,000 thousand surgeons from the USA, Canada and Europe watched it unfold in real time via live video.

Renown around the world for its hernia treatment, Shouldice Hospital was selected to present its technique to delegates attending the 89th Convention of American College of Surgeons currently assembled in downtown Chicago.

The amazing thing is not that I was the chosen guinea pig for this educational presentation, but that medical advances now make it possible for a surgeon in downtown New York, assisted by a doctor in Tokyo, Japan and another in Cape Town, South Africa, to operate on a patient lying in bed in Kandahar in Afghanistan.

But, what’s even more remarkable is that many of the top-notch healthcare workers at Shouldice Hospital (as in many hospitals in Canada, USA and Europe) who are at the cutting edge of medical technologies are immigrants from developing or semi-developed countries. The original examination of my hernia was done by Dr Tan from Indonesia. Marty, the lab nurse who took my blood samples, came from the Philippines.

The actual surgery was carried out by Dr M. Alexander, a skilled surgeon who immigrated from the Caribbean island of St Lucia, and who worked in Nigeria for nine years. While he operated on me in Toronto, his immediate boss Dr Cassim Degani, an immigrant from India, watched the procedure unfold on a large television screen in Chicago and provided the running commentary to the assembled surgeons. You begin to get the picture.

Today, Africa is exporting many Dr Alexanders who provide world-class healthcare to major hospitals in North America, Europe and the Far East. In almost every city on the globe, you are likely to find at least one Uganda-born physician working in general practice or specialised care.

You would think that those dedicated healthcare professionals left behind in the homeland, who toil long hours under extremely atrocious conditions, get the same respect as their colleagues working abroad.

You would be wrong. A good example was that most unfortunate remark made a couple of weeks ago by President Yoweri Museveni while defending the use of the presidential jet to send a relative abroad. He could not entrust the security of his family to Uganda hospitals, he said, because some doctors bore ill-will.

Though directed at a few doctors, the entire profession felt the sting since everyone was now suspect until proven innocent. Moreover, it’s not only the off-the-cuff remarks of politicians that hurt healthcare in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa.

The fact is that healthcare does not get the priority it deserves in the national budgets of African countries. Consequently, there is just one doctor for several thousand patients, and one hospital bed for even many more thousands. Hospitals continue to run with diminishing resources, facilities and drugs. That the healthcare professionals do their work at all is truly remarkable, a point to be celebrated rather than criticised.

As I lie here at Shouldice Hospital this morning, waiting to go home tomorrow, I am confident that any surgeon in a Uganda hospital or clinic would have handled the same surgery with the same routine ease. But, imagine what he or she could do with better tools, more medical resources and a bit
more respect.

Oloyao@ycdsb.edu.on.ca

Healthcare in Africa

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