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To heal the world, we need healers

By: Timothy Lu, Program Officer at Operation Smile 

November 21, 2014

If you spend any time speaking with a physician or administrator at a hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the topic of “brain drain” will probably come up.  It happens when a country loses highly trained workers who move to more developed areas or higher income countries.

This makes sense if you think about it. You spend x amount of years getting an advanced education at university. Why wouldn’t you want to leverage that credential to earn more lucrative amounts of money, pursue a higher quality of life, and ensure that one day your children will meet greater opportunities?

In many African countries, over 50% of healthcare workers reported that they intend to migrate from their home country once trained(1).

The link between migrating health workforces and the surgical burden of disease is a palpable one. As skilled health personnel depart, health systems stagnate or even lose their ability to deliver safe and high quality surgical care. As someone who has spent some time developing surgical programs in the DRC, I have seen the shortage of skilled surgical providers firsthand.

The situation is dire.WP_20140913_022.jpg

One general reference hospital I visited serves a population of more than 250,000 people with only three physicians. None were equipped with advanced surgical or anesthesia training.

What happens when a woman living with obstetric fistula—a hole between the birth canal and the vagina and/or rectum—arrives to the hospital? Instead of being admitted, she is forced to sleep outside to wait. How long she will wait, she does not know. No one at the local health facility knows how to treat her.

She joins more than 40 other women with the same condition, some who have endured the outdoors as long as six months. As I meet with them, they are unique in story and personality. Hailing from different villages, they have traveled varying distances by foot, boat, or moto. The one thing shared in common was their odor, caused by past birth complications and tragically prolonged by the region’s restricted access to surgical treatment.

To heal these patients, we need healers.

WP_20140913_023.jpgAddressing the shortage of skills begins with increasing opportunities for medical education and professional training. But the problem of health personnel shortages extends past the operating room. We need not only to increase the depth of medical expertise, but the range and mix of various health specialties—nurses, biomedical technicians, community health workers, and administrators. Together they will form necessary building blocks to develop a strong and robust health delivery system.

Other factors are in play and must not be neglected. Government and business are key change makers when it comes to establishing a supportive working and living environment for professional growth, so that health workers are less likely to migrate. Shortages in essential medicines, supplies and equipment will require reliable financing and supply chains.

That is why Operation Smile is making investments in the DRC. We envision a world where no person lives without equitable access to safe surgical treatment. By partnering with governments and Ministries of Health, we work with medical staff who are authorized and prepared to undertake surgical repairs over the long-term. Our surgical programs provide necessary training opportunities for physicians, nurses, and other key medical staff while also immediately increasing access for the women sleeping outside the hospital waiting for surgery. 

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Posted by kenzy on
i would greatly honored to render help to the less privileged. Right when i was a small boy i always wanted to heal the world.but i need help to attain a medical school in order to carry out my vision
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