Vanderbilt’s International Surgery program was launched in July 2011 under the supervision of pediatrican and general surgeon Erik Hansen, M.D., who also serves as associate program director.
AIC Kijabe Hospital, located in Kijabe, Kenya, one hour outside Nairobi, was opened in 1915 as a small, local hospital. Today, as an Africa Inland Mission (AIM) hospital, it serves as a training hospital, meeting the medical needs of the entire region. Yet even with international assistance, the hospital relies most often on donated medical equipment and supplies.
While most are found in the cities and large towns of the country, 30 percent of all health care in Kenya is provided by mission hospitals, such as Kijabe, as well as other non-governmental health care institutions, many of which are found in rural settings.
Because of the limited access to health care in the region, patients often present at much later stages in their illnesses. With a population of 40 million, the people of Kenya struggle to find quality and affordable surgical care among the 300 surgeons in the country.
“We see complications, infections and end-stage presentations here that we almost never see in the United States because so many East Africans simply can’t get to a doctor sooner,” said Hansen.
Plastic surgeon mentoring residents globally
Peter Nthumba, M.D., a plastic surgeon, honorary secretary of the Surgical Society of Kenya and Vanderbilt adjunct professor in Plastic Surgery, is mentoring Vanderbilt residents on rotation at Kijabe Hospital in Kenya. Each day, he sees patients who suffer from a host of life-threatening maladies requiring surgery, including massive tumors.
“As you can imagine, when we remove these tumors, it truly changes their lives,” said Nthumba. “But it’s distressing to know that so many of these tumors could be removed years earlier, as they are in the U.S., if access to surgical care were improved,” he said.
Nthumba specializes in plastic, reconstructive and hand surgery. He trained in Kenya, India and Spain before returning to Kijabe Hospital to address this critical shortage of surgeons.
“With our current numbers and programs, we just can’t treat all the patients,” Nthumba said. “We must teach others how, as well.”