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Oxford surgeons renew links with African children's hospital

This article is more than eight years old.

Oxford surgeons have returned to the African children's hospital their colleague helped set up more than a decade ago.

Staff from the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre (NOC) teamed with counterparts in Malawi to run specialist training to tackle debilitating conditions such as club foot. The week-long course was held at the Beit CURE International Hospital in the city of Blantyre, a facility that Nuffield Orthopaedic Surgeon Professor Chris Lavy helped to establish during his time working in the country in the early 2000s.

The training was part of the ongoing £1.4m COSECSA Oxford Orthopaedic Link (COOL) project to improve child healthcare across East, Central and Southern Africa that has seen medical specialists from Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust help train more than 400 African counterparts in the past nine months.
The next course will be held in Kenya in early 2014.

Prof Lavy said: "Oxford has some of the best orthopaedic expertise in the world and it is fantastic we are able to share that with a region that has a desperate need.

"The real strength of this project is that we are working alongside our African counterparts to improve training and help thousands of vulnerable children. We are also building strong relationships with surgeons across these countries and with institutions, like the Beit CURE Hospital in Malawi, which will endure long after the three year project has drawn to a close."

The programme is led by Prof Lavy and his NOC colleague Mr Hemant Pandit and funded by the UK Government. It aims to improve survival rates from serious injuries and road accidents and improve the treatment of children affected by conditions such as club foot and infections of bones and joints.

Conservative estimates suggest there are more than 500,000 children in the region with untreated musculoskeletal impairments. These conditions are associated with less access to education and employment and increased deprivation.

The children's orthopaedics workshop in Malawi was attended by 32 surgical trainees from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The team running the course included NOC surgeons Andrew Wainwright, David Stubbs and Mr Pandit, along with project manager Grace Le. The group also included Tim Nunn, from Sheffield Children's Hospital, and orthopaedic trainee Ms Marie-Caroline Nogaro.

Mr Stubbs said: "I was proud to be part of such a well organised course. It was also a pleasure to meet with my surgical colleagues in Africa who are so keen to learn yet are continually battling against the odds to provide the up-to-date health care they know their patients deserve.

"If it were not for this type of initiative, there would be no way they could afford to travel to attend such a course either in Africa or places such as the UK or USA."

The project is a partnership between Oxford University's Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences (NDORMS) and the College of Surgeons of East Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA), and builds on regional orthopaedic training that surgeons from the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre have successfully led in partnership with COSECSA in previous years.

So far the programme has run 15 specialist courses across the region and more courses are planned over the next 18 months.

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Blantyre Beit CURE Hospital and local course leader John Cashman said: "In this region of Africa, approximately half the population is under the age of 16 years and life expectancy is commonly less than 50 years. Additionally, children are affected by many surgically treatable conditions.

"However, there are perhaps only a few dozen surgeons in the entire region of Africa trained specifically to deal with such physical disabilities in children and there is a pressing need to concentrate efforts in training surgeons in paediatric orthopaedics.

"The course here in Malawi proved very popular and provided training participants would have found difficult to gain by any other means. We hope there will be a lasting legacy of improved knowledge and surgical skills amongst surgeons attending these courses, and a renewed interest in further sub-specialist training in children’s orthopaedics amongst other junior doctors in the region.

"We are very grateful to the team from Oxford for running the course and look forward to similar courses in other countries throughout the region."

The COOL project is also uncovering the magnitude of disability affecting children in the region. The KIM Malawi research project has already trained 500 community members on the identification of children with disabilities and thousands of children will be screened for physical and intellectual impairments before the end of this year. This information will be vital for building tailored medical and social services in Malawi and the wider region.