I have just stepped down from the chairmanship of the charity ReSurge Africa.
First of all a bit of background...
This charity was founded in 1992 by JC Mustarde, a well known ophthalmic plastic surgeon, working at Canniesburn Plastic Surgery Unit in Glasgow. The original intention of the charity was to provide a reliable reconstructive surgery service for Ghana, by training local surgeons in the techniques of plastic surgery. After twenty years, this aim has been reached, with fifteen trained Ghanaian plastic surgeons in Ghana, working in two centres, Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, the capital of the country, and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti kingdom. They are now training their own people and the need of outside help is greatly diminished.
Since 2009, the charity has centred its attention on Sierra Leone, where no, or very little, reconstructive surgery is carried out. In fact, very little surgery at all is performed by the ten local surgeons working in Sierra Leone, a nation of six and a half million people, devastated by a horrific civil war which ended in 2002.
ReSurge Africa began to visit the country in 2009, identifying a small 70 bedded hospital built by Italian Catholic missionaries – The Holy Spirit Hospital in Makeni, more or less in the centre of the country, as a nucleus, where reconstructive surgery might be performed. An Italian charity Fondazione Don Gnocchi had built a small extension onto the hospital, with the intention of fitting myo-electric upper limb prostheses to patients who had lost their arms in the war – a signature trade mark of the rebels. After a few years, having spent a lot of money, the Italians withdrew, realising that the country was not yet prepared for such elegant work and more basic provision has to precede such an endeavour.
Resurge Africa has started to send doctors and nurses and therapists to Ghana for training, since there are no facilities within Sierra Leone for this. At the same time, teams of surgeons, anaesthetists, therapists and nurses are sent from the UK monthly to help to establish an environment where reconstructive surgery can be carried out. In this we have been joined by the British Society for Surgery of the Hand (BSSH) and some other charities.
Kumasi is a town of about 50,000 people. There is a Government hospital there and another two hospitals run by the Swiss and the Dutch. When a team arrives at the Holy Spirit Hospital, they are accommodated in a small guest house within the hospital grounds. The arrival of a team has been advertised by bush telegraph and the first task is to identify patients, from amongst a host who come hoping to be seen (and cured!) who await the team’s arrival. The most common affliction is burns, most commonly in children. Thereafter, hand injuries are frequent, as are congenital deformities such as cleft lips. The cases are very different from the cases that are familiar to surgeons working in the UK, end-stage disease, accompanied by gross disfigurement is common and presents a technical challenge. It is important to recognise, however, that heroic surgery is inappropriate in these circumstances, since the back up services are totally inadequate to deal with the complications associated with such procedures.
Teams stay for a period of two weeks as a rule and will operate on up to fifty patients, although they will see at least a hundred, referring some to the next team if appropriate.
More about the actual experience of going there in the next blog...