Newly trained orthopaedic surgeons are ready to set up practice at regional hospitals across rural Uganda, except the operating rooms aren’t equipped with the high-tech tools they need to treat patients with traumatic injuries.
The basic essentials such as surgical instruments and implants are missing because no orthopaedic surgeon has ever worked there before.
The severely injured in Uganda – a country with one of the highest rates of traumatic injuries in the world, largely due to road traffic injuries – are treated at the national referral and training hospital in the capital city, Kampala, if they receive care at all. About 80 per cent of the population lives in rural areas, and widespread poverty means many people cannot afford bus fare to the city, even in an emergency.
“Here in Canada, there would be no question, these patients need surgical treatment,” says Piotr Blachut, Clinical Professor in the UBC Department of Orthopaedics. “The Ugandan people are relegated to substandard care because the regional hospitals don’t have equipment. As a result, the country has a huge amount of disability.”
In 2009, Dr. Blachut and his colleague Peter O’Brien, Associate Professor in the UBC Department of Orthopaedics, launched the Uganda Sustainable Trauma Orthopaedic Program (USTOP), a partnership between the UBC Faculty of Medicine and Makerere University that has trained more than 30 surgical residents and more than 100 nurses and paramedical personnel who care for patients with traumatic injuries.
Now USTOP is helping its recent graduates to set up practices at regional hospitals, with support from ClearWealth Advisors Inc., a Vancouver-based wealth management firm that serves specialist physicians. The firm has pledged $25,000 over five years, which will help newly qualified orthopaedic surgeons transition into clinical practice by funding some basic yet appropriate equipment they need to provide high-quality, low-cost care in previously underserved areas of rural Uganda.
ClearWealth’s eight-member team, led by partners Bruce Lindsay and Glenn Ayrton, believes in working towards the greater good of the community, here in British Columbia and abroad.
“Glenn and I both have physician clients who have lived or volunteered in developing countries,” Lindsay says. “Hearing the stories about the difference they’re able to make has helped us realize how fortunate we are to live in North America. These stories really resonate with us, and USTOP feels like something we can really get behind at the corporate level.”
ClearWealth’s multi-year commitment means USTOP can plan the most effective way to collect used, discounted and donated surgical equipment in Vancouver and ship it to Uganda, where it will be distributed to the regional hospitals and also used to improve the quality of USTOP’s training courses.
“With ClearWealth’s support, we’re giving the graduates some hope that some help will be available to them for their progression
into the regional hospitals,” Dr. Blachut says.
The equipment orthopaedic surgeons depend on in the operating rooms of Vancouver and even Kampala may not work in the regional hospitals, where the
electricity and water pressure are unreliable. USTOP is collaborating with UBC Engineers in Scrubs to develop solutions that will allow the surgeons to provide high-quality care, even with limited infrastructure. For example, a cover for a regular household drill that can be sterilized again and again is expected to become commercially available in 2016.
“The patient population that gets injured in Uganda is the young breadwinners, and when they become disabled, the family goes into poverty,” Dr. Blachut says. “Ultimately, the goal of getting more trained surgeons with more equipment into the rural communities is to manage the epidemic of road traffic accidents so there’s less disability, poverty, and human suffering in Uganda.”