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A collaboration, not a mission trip

U-M physicians train their Ghanaian ear, nose and throat colleagues

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U-M otolaryngologist Mark Prince (right) confers with Dr. Alex Oti of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, Ghana. Prince and several colleagues recently spent a week in Kumasi collaborating with Ghanian doctors.

 

Doctors do “mission trips” all the time. They take a week or so off from work and travel to a developing country. They treat several patients and then they fly home.

No doubt, such trips can have a huge impact on a patient’s life. But Mark Prince, M.D., wanted to do much more than that when he and his colleagues began thinking about working in the West African nation of Ghana. They didn’t want to just provide sporadic care.

“We wanted to go to a place where care was already being delivered at a certain level and assist them with getting to the next level,” said Prince, of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the U-M Health System.

The U-M physicians’ goal was to work with their Ghanaian colleagues to create a training program — an educational collaboration. In the past two years, they’ve already made much progress with such a project at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, or KATH, in Kumasi — the second-biggest city in Ghana.

“The main goal is to teach the doctors in Kumasi to do everything they need to do to take care of their patients and also get them to the level they can train medical students, residents and even other doctors from elsewhere in West Africa how to provide better care,” Prince said.

In late October, Prince made his fifth visit to Ghana. He traveled with two of his colleagues, Jeffrey Moyer, M.D., and Greg Basura, M.D., Ph.D. The physicians taught a course on head-and-neck surgery and assisted their Ghanaian colleagues with several complex cases.

The trip followed one in March when the doctors delivered equipment and helped set up a new center at KATH for doctors who want to practice their surgical techniques.

Ghana desperately needs more otolaryngologists, commonly known as ear, nose and throat doctors, or ENTs. The country only has between 20 and 30 ENT doctors serving a population of 26 million. U-M Health System alone has 35 such physicians.

Too often, chronic ear infections go untreated in Ghana, resulting in a loss of hearing. This year, the World Health Organization reported that 360 million people—5 percent of the world’s population—have disabling hearing loss, with half of all the cases avoidable with primary prevention.

Another reason why Prince and his colleagues wanted to help build an educational collaboration rather than do mission trips was that it was more economical in the long run.

“To bring a large team of physicians to a center – even a place like this in Kumasi where there’s infrastructure already –  with all of their equipment and support staff is very expensive,” Prince said. But if we grow the program, using the local resources, it’s much less costly and sustainable because we don’t need to come with 20 people every time.”

Prince said the collaboration will be successful if the U-M doctors are no longer really necessary.

“Ultimately, the goal would be that we would still come, but we would come to provide some additional training, see our friends, help out with a few complex cases, but they wouldn’t really need that anymore,” he said. “They would be providing care at a higher level without us here.”

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