To mark World Health Day (April 7), we look at how technological advances in the developed world can benefit the health of global populations.
Many of us are motivated by a drive to help make the world a fairer, more equal place, even if it is only in a small way. For those of us who choose surgery as a career, or any strand of medicine for that matter, this motivation is often particularly strong. Over the course of a career, a professional can touch many thousands of lives in the most positive of ways.
But there are limits to what can be achieved, and barriers which can lead to frustrations.
It is a fact of the unequal distribution of resources across the world that most of the best trained surgeons are concentrated in the developing world. But expertise, just like equipment and funding, is most in need in the developing world. It is a sobering fact that only 6 per cent of the 300 million plus surgical procedures carried out across the world each year are performed on the poorest third of the global population.
Broadening horizons through remote surgery
Reaching out to those most in need is not easy. Surgeons have careers to think about, families to look after, responsibilities to their own patients and hospitals. The more senior you become, those responsibilities only increase. Time to travel and practice in areas of the world where surgical knowledge is most scarce and most in demand is a luxury few can afford.
Plus you have to take into consideration the fact that many such areas are hard to reach, and in the case of conflict zones especially, pose considerable risks to anyone travelling to them, no matter how good their intentions.
So are we just to accept that most surgeons with philanthropic ambitions are likely to remain frustrated? That the options for using hard-earned skill and expertise to benefit the lives of the most in need are just too hard to realise?
That has been the experience of many surgeons looking to work for NGOs and charity foundations to date. But now there is another way – telemedicine, remote surgery through digital technology.
For surgeons looking to broaden their horizons with work in far off areas of the world, for specialist practitioners hoping to put their expertise to use to help the disadvantaged, Proxime offers a revolutionary new opportunity.
Through Proximie’s augmented reality (AR)-assisted remote collaboration platform, specialists no longer have to travel to make their knowledge and skill available to help the most in need. They can work for an NGO, helping to upskill local practitioners, organise and plan clinics, and oversee the delivery of treatment, right from their own home and office. With a couple of iPads or laptops, a consultant surgeon can work on any surgical project, anywhere in the world.
Proximie is connecting experienced senior surgeons with local practitioners in places where their expertise and specialist knowledge can make a huge difference. In Peru, the Proximie platform has been used to help deliver cleft palate surgery to children in a project run by the Global Smile Foundation NGO. The EsSalud Hospital in Trujillo caters for patients who cannot afford medical insurance. The pediatric team handles the cases of hundreds of children needing cleft lip and cleft palate repairs from across a huge swathe of northern Peru.
A consultant reconstructive specialist from the Riverside University, California, Dr Raj M. Vyas, has worked with a local team run by Dr Soraya to share the latest techniques pioneered by his team, overseeing live surgery as well as planning and demonstrating. As a result, Dr Soraya’s team has been able to complete cleft repair procedures more quickly, and therefore achieve a significant uplift in the number of cases it handles.
Similarly, Proximie has been used by the Facing the World charity in Vietnam. Facing the World funds and supports craniofacial surgery for children with severe facial disfigurements. It aims to build specialist surgical centres across Vietnam and train 60 practitioners over five years through a series of training missions. The Proximie app has been used to support this work by connecting surgeons on the ground in Vietnam with facial reconstructive specialists in the UK.
Finally, Proximie is being used to bring surgical expertise to some of the world’s most hard to reach places, in conflict zones where the devastation caused by war and violence creates some of the greatest need for surgery. Dr Ghassan Soleiman Abu-Sittah of the American University of Beirut Medical Centre, Lebanon, made headlines when he oversaw the reconstruction of a young man’s hand in Gaza after he was caught up in a bomb blast. With the help of local general surgeon Dr Hafez Abu Khousa, Dr Ghassan oversaw the delivery of the complex reconstruction from hundreds of miles away in Beirut, using Proximie.
These are just some of the examples of the ways Proximie can make it easier for experienced surgeons to share their expertise for the greater good. Through AR-assisted remote collaboration, surgeons can reach out further than ever before.