Written by Biodun Ogungbo- Nigeria
Friday, November 13 was the inaugural meeting of the spine group in Abuja. The group is a collection of individuals interested in improving spine care in Nigeria and the West African sub region as a whole. The idea is to improve the education, training, research, awareness and advocacy surrounding the care of the injured spine. The group is called the West African Spine Society.
An orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Ahidjo Kawu, working in collaboration with Prof. Oheneba Boachie-Adjei and yours truly, convened the group. Of course, you know I would be there, whenever and wherever patient care is concerned. Moving spine care forward in Nigeria and improving the outcomes for our patients is a task that must be done.
Over the two days, we discussed and learnt a lot from one another on ways, means and strategies to increase awareness of spine pathologies, diagnosis and treatment and, especially, efficient and cost-effective treatment.
How do we deliver the same quality of care at a fraction of the cost of going abroad? How do we look after the peoples spines and prevent them from a lifetime of misery, pain and disability? Well, the meeting, conference, lectures, workshops and deliberations were exciting, promising and ultimately fulfilling. The future is bright for Nigeria.
There are very important aspects to the formation of the group. The first is the strength in numbers to share information and offer support to one another to deliver the best therapies for patients. Forming the group ensures we can communicate problems and together find solutions, especially local solutions of real benefit. The group is multinational and multidisciplinary, accommodating doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, chiropractors from every country in West Africa.
Supported by international companies such as Medtronic and Biostadt, we are positioning to deliver a wider range of instrumented fusion and futuristic surgery for our patients. These companies are truly interested in Nigeria and are apparently committed to supporting our practice in the long term. They have promised to provide easier access to funding, training and materials that will enhance our practice and their pockets.
Let me take you through the kind of problems we are concerned about.
An important condition is scoliosis or bendy spine in the layman’s language. Scoliosis is the curvature of the spine and affects mostly children. It can be something they are born with or indeed developed in the teenage years. For many, it portends pain, psychological trauma, misery and shame. Many children in Nigeria develop hunchbacks that could and should have been corrected at childhood. Uncorrected, it blights their lives and indeed many die before they attain adulthood.
Yet, there can be treatment for it and, in collaborating with Focos Orthopaedic Hospital, Ghana, we can at least provide effective treatment in the West African Sub-region. Boachie-Adjei and his team in Accra are delivering great results for children with hunchbacks. With this, there will be no more travelling to the village for bonesetters to destroy your children for you. No more myths and superstitions about using these people to make money. The problem can be solved in your lifetime and the children achieve their full potential. Who knows, one of them could even become the President.
In the not-too-distant past, broken necks and backs were poorly managed in Nigeria. Many of our National Orthopaedic Hospitals and other tertiary centres are being glorified in name only and not fit for the purpose. Poorly equipped and busy as hell, they fail to deliver timely and appropriate care. Sadly, many of their patients are Okada (commercial motorcycle) riders who cannot even afford the little required for care. Therefore, the poor patients are often packed on the wards like sardines, begging for succour.
Even more important is the lack of adequate training facilities and opportunities for junior doctors to become spine surgeons. Residents interested in spine surgeries have a few consultants to intern with and opt to train outside Nigeria. Upon return, they cannot practise what they have learnt due to the same perennial problems of lack of finance and at times basic equipment. This increases the tendency for them to refer patients abroad.
Perhaps, we can now help them. We are geared towards developing collaborations and partnerships that actually deliver care to the needy people in our region. Working together with a common purpose to elevate care to international standards, ego and territorial wars may even become outdated.
Degenerative spine disease
Soon as we stop growing, we start falling apart. Arthritis of the spine, due to growing old, starts from the age of 20 years. This is called degenerative spine disease or spondylosis for short. It can happen in the neck or in the back and is accelerated by factors such as your job, weight, sporting activities, smoking and infection. Some also develop bad arthritis due to the way they have used their bodies. I told you recently about men with many wives who complain of bad backs. Well, following this group meeting and the development of the West African Spine Society, you can feel free to have as many wives as you want. No problem.
Now, you can break your back on us!
NB: All healthcare practitioners, local companies and multi-nationals interested in spine care and even patients and relatives can be members of the West African Spine Society. Please email me with your specific request, comments or opinions for consideration.