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Beyond Malaria, Ebola and HIV, Africa Needs More Surgeons

Updated: Oct 20, 2019

Every minute of every day, an African child dies of malaria, a scourge that billions of dollars of international aid have been dedicated to fighting for the past decade with great success, cutting the death rate by half.

Pills and injections cannot diagnose a surgical disease, set a broken bone, mend a lip or remove a tumor..

However, the emphasis on infectious diseases has obscured an underlying problem—the developing world has a massive burden of unmet surgical needs. This is partly due to the lack of enough skilled surgeons who can treat injuries and conditions that would be considered routine procedures in more developed nations.

Surgery is a fundamental aspect of health-care systems. Pills and injections cannot diagnose a surgical disease, set a broken bone, mend a lip or remove a tumor. In many parts of Africa, a person who suffers a serious leg injury may well end up with amputation as the first response because there aren’t the microsurgeons available who know how to repair blood vessels and nerves to save a limb.

As a Mayo clinic trained surgeon and a Facial Reconstructive and Head and Neck surgeon at the Johns Hopkins hospital, I have been blessed in my work to have access to the best facilities and equipment to provide advanced surgical solutions to those who travel from far and near to seek my expertise for their complex surgical problems.

But everyone, everywhere deserves world-class surgical care. Through the humanitarian organizations Foundation for Special Surgery, Face the Future Foundation and Children Surgery International, and with volunteer doctors and nurses from the U.S., Europe and Latin America, I have been traveling to underserved communities around the world providing complex surgical care for children and adults with cancer and deformities from birth, trauma, war, and conflict. Our work has taken us to communities in Mexico, Vietnam, Liberia, Peru, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda and Cameroon. The needs for surgeries are great and diverse, from basic to advance.

For decades, many groups like the Foundation for Special Surgery have been offering life-saving surgeries in Africa but the unmet surgical burden remains high. The truth is, Africa needs to nurture its specialist surgeons.

The Foundation for Special Surgery is raising awareness and funds to build a specialty surgical hospital in Ghana where young African men and women can receive specialized surgical training, with which they will be able to make a living while providing world-class surgical care to their fellow Africans. The foundation has commitments from surgeons throughout the world, who work in outstanding institutions and are willing to volunteer their time to help train and assist local surgeons at this hospital.

Dr. Kofi Boahene


Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

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