Bassett Team Travels to Zambia; Trains Surgeons in Advanced Surgical Technique

Bassett Medical Center

October 19, 2017

Zambia2.jpgFour surgeons from Bassett Medical Center recently returned from a trip to southern Africa where they trained a group of surgeons there how to perform abdominal laparoscopic surgery, also known as minimally invasive surgery. The surgeons they trained will extend the reach of the Bassett project by training fellow African doctors in this more advanced surgical technique, which is expected to result in expanded access to this type of surgery for the poor, shorter hospital stays and better outcomes.

Bassett Medical Center fourth-year surgery resident Sarah Smith and surgeons Andrew Griffiths, MD, Steve Heneghan, MD, and Theodor Kaufman, MD, traveled to the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka, Zambia to train five surgeons there. Smith, who has been to Zambia on prior service trips and suggested UTH as a training location, was there Aug. 12 until Sept. 9. Drs. Griffiths, Heneghan and Kaufman each spent about two weeks there to ensure that one or two senior surgeons would always be on site.

At right: Bassett and Zambian surgeons collaborate on a surgical case at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia.

One of the goals of the trip was to teach surgeons how to perform abdominal laparoscopy and, specifically, gallbladder removal, as that is most in demand. The team also did several laparoscopic organ biopsies. The surgeons volunteered and used personal vacation or medical training time for the trip, which was in part funded by Bassett’s Mithoefer Center for Rural Surgery.

Several employees from various departments at Bassett Medical Center worked for months to help ensure the trip’s success. Volunteers from the department of surgery stored and sorted donated medical equipment. Bassett carpenters constructed a special shipping crate for the laparoscopic equipment. The group had to obtain medical licenses for Zambia, get the necessary immunizations and obtain approval from the Zambian government to ship surgical equipment to the country.

The team shipped supplies for months in advance—sutures, mesh, laparoscopic equipment, instruments, gauze and gloves. Bassett donated outdated equipment that is “fine and functional,” according to Dr. Kaufman. “We regularly update and upgrade our equipment so we shipped equipment we no longer use…it is 100 percent reusable even by American standards.”

“This was an effort that involved many people at Bassett, the entire division, the support of the department of surgery as well as the top administration,” Dr. Kaufman said. “Our absence meant more workload for the surgeons who remained here. A lot of time and a lot of work went into this trip but it will have a deep impact for years.”

The trip was a tremendous success. Zambian surgeons were doing cases independently before the group left, and have done many cases since. To ensure the effort’s sustainability, the five locally-trained surgeons agreed to share their knowledge with other surgeons who will continue to care for patients for years to come.

According to World Vision, one-third of the population in Zambia does not have access to clean water and one-half lack adequate sanitation. UTH serves the country’s poorest residents. Hospitals with better resources are available for patients who can afford them.

Aside from the obvious benefit of helping people in a developing country live better quality and longer lives, the trip enhances the rural surgery training program. “This endeavor also helps our surgery program by attracting high quality applicants who have an altruistic calling and it is a feather in our cap for the rural surgery program,” said Dr. Kaufman, general surgeon and program director for the general surgery residency.

“We attract young adults interested in working in rural locations for life so they come to a place like Bassett to perform multiple surgeries, and many of these higher quality trainees will stay and continue with Bassett.” Both Dr. Kaufman and Dr. Griffiths completed their surgery residency training at Bassett.

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