The challenges and opportunities of global neurosurgery in East Africa: the Neurosurgery Education and Development model

The objective of this study was to describe the experience of a volunteering neurosurgeon during an 18-week stay at the Neurosurgery Education and Development (NED) Institute and to report the general situation regarding the development of neurosurgery in Zanzibar, identifying the challenges and opportunities and explaining the NED Foundation’s model for safe practice and sustainability.

The NED Foundation deployed the volunteer neurosurgeon coordinator (NC) for an 18-week stay at the NED Institute at the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital, Stonetown, Zanzibar. The main roles of the NC were as follows: management of patients, reinforcement of weekly academic activities, coordination of international surgical camps, and identification of opportunities for improvement. The improvement opportunities were categorized as clinical, administrative, and sociocultural and were based on observations made by the NC as well as on interviews with local doctors, administrators, and government officials.

During the 18-week period, the NC visited 460 patients and performed 85 surgical procedures. Four surgical camps were coordinated on-site. Academic activities were conducted weekly. The most significant challenges encountered were an intense workload, deficient infrastructure, lack of self-confidence among local physicians, deficiencies in technical support and repairs of broken equipment, and lack of guidelines. Through a series of interviews, the sociocultural factors influencing the NED Foundation’s intervention were determined. Factors identified for success were the activity of neurosurgical societies in East Africa; structured pan-African neurosurgical training; the support of the Foundation for International Education in Neurological Surgery (FIENS) and the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA); motivated personnel; and the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar’s willingness to collaborate with the NED Foundation.

International collaboration programs should balance local challenges and opportunities in order to effectively promote the development of neurosurgery in East Africa. Support and endorsement should be sought to harness shared resources and experience. Determining the caregiving and educational objectives within the logistic, administrative, social, and cultural framework of the target hospital is paramount to success.