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Brain Project – Dr. Teddy Totimeh

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Teddy Totimeh, Consultant Neurosurgeon, University of Ghana Medical Center: “When the brain tumour conference ended, the brain project begun.  It seemed like a bit too much to put these two events together, from the organisational stand pint.  It was sleepless nights for a month or so, and long days.  I was not exactly a family man for two months…  but it paid off.  19 patients got operated over a 10 day period. 10 surgeons,  a full anaesthetic team, experienced nurses and paramedical staff all dedicated to getting people better.  It was an interesting time of learning. Neurosurgeons of African descent from the US had decided to dedicate themselves to one week of operating in Ghana.  We had discussed the patients extensively before they came.  We had a local committee which met pre-mission to iron out all the organisation kinks.

There are under 25 neurosurgeons in the country for 36 million people.  There is no way that neurosurgical problems will be solved in any way with the numbers that we have.  There is no way our challenges will be overcome with the kind of strategy that we have, at least not in the short term. At this time, the diaspora offers a good reservoir of expertise, and managed properly we can tap into the increasing ranks of medics who want to give back to the mother land.

The Brain Project is a Dallas based consortium of doctors of African origin who have decided to do just this.  They have a simple modus operandi.  They go round the hospitals that they are affiliated to in the US, and ask for refurbished neurosurgical equipment that can be donated, and also consumables that hospitals are ready to do away with.  They also sweet talk companies for various neurosurgical implants and appeal to their sense of corporate social responsibility.  These companies then send representatives, implant and instrument sets along with the team to be used for a specific number of surgeries for free.

They then reach out to a Ghanaian hospital, which is ready to pay duty for the containers, and then do the surgeries in these hospitals.  The patients are charged subsidised rates to cover the hospital charges.  All implants, surgical expertise and instrument use are completely free. The surgeons even pay their own registration fees for a temporary work permit for Ghana -a hefty 650 dollars per practitioner.

At the end of the mission, all the equipment and consumables are left for the hospital, until the next mission. This was their second mission in Ghana.  The first mission was at the Ridge Hospital in 2019.  It was supposed to be a yearly affair, but COVID struck.  It was an interesting week of learning, camaraderie and expertise transfer. Neurosurgeons in Ghana generally work on their own or in small  two man teams in the various hospitals because of the low numbers.  It was special to have 5 to 10 neurosurgeons deliberating on one patient and haggling out a consensus plan which took multiple factors into consideration. It was nice to see the surprise on their faces when they saw that the infrastructure in some of our hospitals was actually top notch, erasing some of the misconceptions that echo around in  their luxury centres in the US.   It was a joy to see neurosurgery trainees work along side surgeons at the top of their craft, teaching skills that would otherwise take them a few months to years to acquire on their own.

It was a joy to see patients go home, with thousands of dollars of implants in their bodies  that they did not have to pay for, grateful for the gift of painless walking and absent bumps. I am already looking forward to next year.
New partners, new strategies, more surgeries.“

 

 

Written By: Teddy Totimeh 

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