Saturday, March 24, 2012

Extreme Affordability Conference

Well, the first annual Center for Global Surgery conference is over.

As always after such events, I am left with a sense of enthusiasm, optimism and community. There are so many people from different fields and countries collaborating and using innovative approaches to the myriad problems facing the low resource world.
(And they're fun to hang out with too.)

So, other than the fact that global surgery people will understand a "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" joke, what did I learn? Too many details to recount, but here, in no particular order, are some epiphanies I had, and concepts I had reinforced:

  • We must collect data.
    Policy-makers and donors will not engage unless you can show them the numbers. The Surgeons OverSeas Assessment of Surgical need is doing a tremendous job of quantifying the problem (e.g. 56 million people in sub-Saharan Africa need surgery today); but all of us engaged in this work must accumulate data in order to better make our case. In addition, it is important for organizations, facilities and donors to adhere to the same standards so that a clear picture can emerge.

  • Long-term engagement always wins.
    A recurrent theme at this conference (predictably) was sustainability. A project can have little long-term impact if it is intermittent. Dr. Michael Matlak challenged those reputable short-term service organizations (e.g. SmileTrain) to shift their focus and expand their capacity-building efforts.
    Moreover, interventions / programs may not be embraced or even believed by local communities until a level of trust has been achieved. Dr. Polly Wiessner explained that the best way to attain this is cultural awareness coupled with evidence of efficacy of 'our medicine' - both are long-term endeavors.

  • Seemingly over-sophisticated therapies have enormous potential in low-resource settings.Before the conference I would have dismissed stem cell therapy as pie-in-the-sky, inappropriate-for-the-setting craziness. However, after hearing Dr. Amit Patel's talk I now appreciate the huge potential for stem cell injections in ischemic limb / failing heart therapies - non-surgical, soon-to-be-cheap outpatient procedures. Very exciting.
  • Don't ask "what do you need?"
    Dr. Adam Kushner explained the #1 request of the Ministries of Health of low income countries - that visiting groups not ask "what do you need?" but instead describe what they can offer. LICs need everything - our organizations cannot possibly have everything they need. But what do we have?

This was a fantastic conference, and I applaud Dr.s deVries, Hitchcock and Price for their tireless work, and all the speakers for engaging, thought-provoking presentations.

Looking forward to next year.

Here's a very nice round up of tweets from the conference.

And here are all the slide-shows / posters for viewing / downloading - enjoy. The videos of the actual talks are here.