Getting Back in the Saddle
Like the rest of the world, ReSurge had to halt all travel and in-person surgical education from March 2020 onward. This provided us the opportunity to make a quick pivot, and build out an entire virtual learning lecture series and database, averaging one lecture every 2.7 days. But, also like the rest of the world, we were eager to get back out into the field. We were especially eager to visit our program sites in Africa, as we recently launched our ReSurge International Program in Africa (RIPA) in full. Learn more about our virtual training programs and our RIPA program in our 2021 Annual Report.
And so, in November 2021, a small team of ReSurge staff and volunteers made our first voyage back to see a few of our local partners in Africa, ultimately to Kenya and Zimbabwe.
Natalie Meyers, our Chief Program Officer, shares her reflection on our first trip back in the field, starting with Kenya. Stay tuned for Natalie’s follow-up post on Zimbabwe coming soon.
The Best Laid Plans: Responding to Unexpected Travel Changes
Before we knew we were going to Kenya, the original trip plan was to spend one week in Kampala, Uganda to do a site and safety assessment at two new partner hospitals in Uganda: CoRSU Rehabilitation Center and Kirridu National Referral Hospital. The second week’s itinerary the team planned to be in Zimbabwe for the COSECSA exams and ReSurge and COSECSA Program Directors Meeting.
Before the team could even leave the US, we received an update from the State Department, that due to Ethiopia’s civil unrest it was no longer safe to even transit through the Addis Ababa, a major transportation hub for the African continent. At ReSurge, we’ve been doing this work for over 50 years, so we have robust systems in place to monitor situations and respond to unexpected events. The safety of our volunteers, staff, and partners are always the number one priority, so we quickly rebooked and rerouted all of our flights to safely avoid the country.
Then on November 16, while the team was en route to Uganda, there was an incident in the capital city, with all causalities being routed to our first hospital site visit. Thankfully all of our partners were safe, but needed to attend to the causalities in their hospital. So, we adjusted plans again to make sure the team was safe and rerouted to Kenya, where we were able to visit ReSurge’s newest Surgical Outreach Partner (SOP), Dr. Peter Nthumba!
Meeting ReSurge’s New Surgical Outreach Partner in Kenya
ReSurge’s newest Surgical Outreach Partner, Dr. Peter Nthumba, welcomed the group of ReSurge volunteers. The volunteers, Dr. Rod Hentz (surgeon), Dr. Chao Long (surgeon and former Laub Fellow), Dr. Nate Ponstein (anesthesiologist), and ReSurge Chief Program Officer, Natalie Meyers were able to visit AIC Kijabe Hospital. It was quite exciting, as this was the first (and only) site that ReSurge approved virtually using the World Health Organization site and safety checklist during the pandemic. Being there in person certainly brought the partnership to life.
The team was able to observe the reconstructive surgery of an 8-year-old girl who is paralyzed due to spina bifida and suffers from large pressure sores. The team was super impressed by the work of Dr. Nthumba and his team, and our anesthesiologist remarked, that AIC Kijabe “had some of the best anesthesia capabilities he has seen in a low or middle-income country.”
It was invigorating meeting Dr. Nthumba in person, but also brought the reality of the deficit of surgical care to life for our volunteers. In the countries where we work there is often only one reconstructive surgeon per hospital, and in many cases, there is only one reconstructive surgeon in the entire country. As Dr. Nthumba generously spent his morning with us visitors, that reality became apparent, and the zero-sum game of our partner’s invaluable time was something we all deeply felt.
Dr. Nthumba operated on his first ReSurge case this December and we look forward to a continued successful partnership with him and his team moving forward. Thank you Dr. Nthumba for everything!
Zimbabwe & the COSESCA Program Directors Meeting
Read about the second part of our trip–Zimbabwe, where we assisted the College of Surgeons of Eastern, Southern, and Central Africa (COSECSA) to conduct their plastic and reconstructive surgery oral exams for trainees from across the continent and to host the COSECSA Program Director’s Meeting. Read it here!