Fukui orthopedic surgeon helps tackle doctor shortage in Africa

by Nozomi Iwakiri


A Japanese orthopedic surgeon is dedicating the latter part of his career to overcoming a doctor shortage in Africa, where medical practitioners are badly needed to treat a surge in traffic accident injuries in the wake of rapid economic development.

Hisatoshi Baba, 61, a doctor and professor at the University of Fukui’s department of medical sciences, said the need for doctors on the continent is “urgent.”

“It is an urgent task to train doctors to reduce the number of fatalities and patients who suffer from the aftereffects of road and other accidents,” Baba said during a recent interview.

In 2010, the orthopedic specialist built a center in Makerere University, a national university in Kampala, to train doctors who can treat trauma patients.

At the center, professors from the University of Fukui in the city of Fukui and universities in Canada and other countries are currently providing instruction on surgeries and treatments, according to Baba.

“I would like to contribute to the development of Africa in the field of medical care,” Baba said.

Baba’s life had little to do with the continent until 2004, when he treated in Fukui a Japanese woman who lived in Uganda and was visiting her home country to receive surgery for a cervical spine injury.

Baba said her Ugandan husband, who came to Japan along with the woman, told him, “Due to a lack of doctors and low medical standards, many patients in Uganda are suffering the aftereffects or dying.”

“I was astonished to find out that people in Africa were unable to receive (spinal) surgery, which is available anywhere in Japan, because of a dearth of doctors,” Baba said. “I wondered if there was anything I can do to help them as a doctor.”

At that time, Baba was already 53. But he flew to Uganda the following year to see the actual conditions for himself, encouraged by his wife, who said to him, “If you really wish to go (to Uganda), it’s now or never.”

Having learned firsthand that Uganda had insufficient medical equipment to treat an increasing number of patients suffering injuries from traffic accidents, Baba decided to devote his efforts to improve the conditions.

Since then, he has invited local doctors to the University of Fukui as trainees, while he himself visited Makerere University to hold lectures or to provide students with clinical training.

According to the World Health Organization, 24.1 people per 100,000 were killed in traffic accidents in Africa in 2010, the largest by region. The figure is also in stark contrast with 5.2 in Japan.

The situation has been made worse as laws that can crack down on drunken driving, speeding or talking on mobile phones have not been established in many African countries.

Referring to data unveiled in October at an international conference, Baba said that the number of orthopedic surgeons per 1 million population was 1 in Cameroon, 1.6 in Kenya and 2 in Nigeria, compared with 192 in Japan.

Baba said the International Society of Orthopedic Surgery and Traumatology, which is also known as the SICOT, decided in October to offer support to management of the center, and possibly also give financial assistance in the future.

“We hope to send Japanese instructors to work at the center on a regular basis,” he said.

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