Today's News

Saturday, March 18, 2000

Orthopaedists volunteer to aid developing world

"The burden of musculoskeletal disease is tremendous in the world," said Richard C. Fisher, MD, University of Colorado Health Science Center in his introduction to an instructional course titled "Orthopaedic Surgery in the Developing World." Contributing to this burden are an aging population, trauma injuries from increased traffic accidents (due to greater availability of vehicles), tuberculosis, violence and war injuries.

Although nations throughout the world are faced with this increasing burden of musculoskeletal conditions, developing nations are ill equipped to meet this challenge. Dr. Fisher stated that the World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of the world population are served by 20 percent of the orthopaedists. To put it in perspective, if the ratio of orthopaedists to the population of Malawi was in the United States, the US population would be served by 30 orthopaedists.

One of the primary purposes of the course was to inspire orthopaedic surgeons to get involved in solving the problem. Dr. Fisher said that although the problem must be addressed from within each nation, there are ways in which US orthopaedists can participate, particularly by volunteering.

R. Richard Coughlin, MD, University of California at San Francisco, described challenges for a successful volunteer experience and offered solutions to some of the potential problems encountered in volunteer situations. Preparation is critical because of the vast array of potential working conditions. Dr. Coughlin urged volunteers to gather as much information about the conditions as possible. It is also important to adapt to local techniques, many of which are ingenious uses of materials available.

C.C.P. McConnachie, MD described his long-term experiences in the Transkei in the Eastern Province of South Africa. He found the prevalence of tuberculosis of bone and joint one of the biggest differences in the types of cases he sees in South Africa compared to those he treated in North Carolina. Dr. McConnachie said that he sees new cases of TB of the bone and joint at least weekly. His presentation included details on his extensive experience in treating TB, and practical advice on its diagnosis and treatment in a third world setting.

Robert S. Derkash, MD, Glenwood Springs, CO concluded the instructional course with a discussion of practical considerations of volunteering in developing countries. He stressed preparation that takes place well in advance of the planned trip. This preparation should include gaining an understanding of the local problems, solutions and equipment; obtaining the appropriate documents (eg, passport, visa, work permit); checking your insurance coverage; getting immunized; ensuring that you understand the goals of the sponsoring organization and learning about the local political situation, the facility you will be working in and the local culture.

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Last modified 18/March/2000 by IS