Africa’s health sector brain drain continues to be of concern, given that the continent carries roughly a quarter of the burden of the world’s diseases but only 1.3% of the world health workforce. Sub-Saharan Africa is perhaps more affected than other regions.

While countries in sub-Sahara continue to provide government subsidised training to doctors, these investments into medical education are being lost through the emigration of doctors to developed countries.

The College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA), a non-profit body which provides postgraduate education and training in surgery, indicates that in sub-Saharan Africa there are just 0.5 surgeons per 100,000 population.

Investing in medical education

COSECSA has shown that investing in education has given African doctors an incentive to remain home and make a positive contribution to their patients’ lives – it is the second largest surgical training institute in sub-Saharan Africa and offers a Membership and Fellowship programme in various surgical disciplines as well as in-service training and an eLearning platform for surgical trainees.

One of the programmes is geared toward getting more women surgeons into operating theatres. It also boasts 94 accredited hospitals with 196 accredited trainers and 350 trainees enrolled.

Recent research showed that 93% of the surgeon graduates from the COSECSA programme are retained in surgery in the sub-Saharan region counteracting the brain drain that occurred in the past.

“Our primary objective is to advance education, training, standards, research and practice in surgical care in this region in order to improve access to surgical care for the neglected surgical patient,” said President of COSECSA in Kenya, Professor Pankaj G. Jani.

“We deliver a surgical training programme with a common examination and an internationally recognised surgical qualification. Admission to the College is open to all registered medical practitioners who comply with the professional requirements for admission,” continued Prof Jani.

The low numbers of surgeons globally and the risks associated with surgical procedures will form a key focal point at the Africa Health Conference scheduled to be held in Johannesburg next week.

“6.5% of the global burden of disease is amenable to surgery. Africa has approximately 25% of the burden of the world’s diseases but only 1.3% of the world health workforce and most surgeons are based in urban areas,” said Prof Jani.

In sub-Saharan Africa, women make up half the population yet represent only 9% of surgical healthcare professionals, according to Operation Giving Back, a volunteerism initiative of the American College of Surgeons (ACS).

“The primary goal for this scholarship programme is to support women in surgical residency to complete their training and encourage other women in medicine to consider surgery as a profession,” said Prof Jani.

Meanwhile, a new voluntary code urges governments and private agencies benefiting from doctors immigrating to provide financial and technological support for developing countries with a shortage of healthcare professionals.

Technology to the rescue

Head of Research and Content at Medical Realities and Consultant Surgeon and Course Director at Barts Cancer Institute in London, Dr Bijendra Patel, suggests using virtual reality (VR) as a solution.

“In 2005 I pioneered the curriculum for the world’s first masters in surgical skills and science using VR simulation,” said Dr Patel.

“I am researching and developing courses and curriculum for technology enhanced learning for acquiring surgical skills by simulation, VR and augmented reality. My vision is globalisation of surgery and global transfer of surgical skills,” continued Dr Patel.

According to Dr Patel, these distance learning programmes place students at the heart of the operating theatre using the latest in VR technology and allows for accelerated training in the rapidly evolving world of surgery.

Dr Patel added that these programmes are open to any student trainee with a computer, Internet access and VR headsets, and can be conducted on a smartphone.

Both Prof Jani and Dr Patel will be sharing their experiences at the Surgery Conference that will take place at the Africa Health Exhibition & Congress from the 29-31 May 2018 at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand.

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