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Doctors needed for ‘tele-medicine’ project in Sierra Leone

 


Doctors needed for ‘tele-medicine’ project in Sierra Leone

March 30, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Operation Classroom is looking for at least 50 physicians willing to participate in a satellite/Internet-based program of consultation and training for medical staff in Sierra Leone.

Any specialty is welcome, according to Joseph Wagner, the director of Operation Classroom, a program that helps United Methodists link with their counterparts in Sierra Leone and Liberia to assist with Christian-based education and health care.

He needs doctors to indicate their interest by the end of April, in order to prepare the grant application. “It’s a way of being involved in a very significant ministry,” he said.

The program would be part of Operation Doctor, a medical component of Operation Classroom that includes a 10-year partnership with the United Methodist Church Health and Maternity Center in Kissy, Sierra Leone.

Wagner began considering such a project at least five years ago, to be based at Ganta Hospital in Liberia, but the civil war there put a halt to his plans. The idea was revived about a year and a half ago, when he was contacted by a former World Bank executive who is assisting with the project.

“Tele-medicine” is defined as the use of telecommunications to provide medical information and services. It can provide access to specialty care in remote locations or in emergency situations and reduces the isolation of rural practitioners in developing countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Clinical applications will include diagnostic examination interpretation, medical/surgical management and follow-up, patient case reviews and specialist referrals. Other applications include continuing medical and nursing education, data collection and evaluation of research and protocol development.

“What we’re trying to do is provide training for the medical staff,” Wagner explained.

The UMC Health and Maternity Center in Kissy is part of the denomination’s Sierra Leone Annual (regional) Conference. It is one of only two facilities providing inpatient and laboratory services in the eastern suburbs of Freetown, the West African nation’s capital. Those communities are highly overpopulated, mostly with unemployed youth, women and displaced people.

Operation Doctor built a two-unit surgical ward in Kissy during 2003-04 and is completing a 30-bed post-op ward, according to Wagner.

Dr. Dennis Marke has served as the chief physician since 1997. Two other doctors, one from Sierra Leone and one from the Congo, also staff the center, which sees about 70 patients a day, Wagner added. An average of 50 babies are delivered there each month.

Kissy has been designated by the Sierra Leone HIV/AIDS Treatment Action Group as a treatment center for the east end of Freetown, which means free anti-retroviral medications, funded by the World Bank, will be made available for those cases.

In 2004, the Kissy clinic tested 1,004 general clients for HIV/AIDS, recording 43 positive cases. Six of those infected died during the year. In addition, 2,351 pre-natal patients were tested, and 69 were positive for the virus.

The center also sponsored a variety of educational programs about HIV/AIDS for communities and schools, and it runs a nutrition program.

The goal of the tele-medicine project is to enable U.S. doctors to connect using their home or office computer, Wagner said. Those who would like to participate can send an e-mail to ocmission@frontiernet.net or call Wagner at (765) 436-2805.

Operation Classroom projects are Advance Specials of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. To contribute to the Kissy clinic and other projects, look at http://gbgm-umc.org/advance or www.operationclassroom.org online.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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