Kenya’s bone surgery not yet on the mend



By David Njagi

Human body tissue harvesting may be the next source of limbs to fix the rising number of Kenyans being maimed by accidents.

The Kenya Orthopedic Association (KOA) is calling for a review of policy to allow tissue harvesting from people who have passed on, to make up for the rising shortage of limbs and joints in the country.

According to KOA chairman Dr. Vincent Muoki Mutiso, bone surgeons are facing increasing pressure from the growing number patients who are being injured in road accidents, sports, collapsed buildings and aging.

The surgeons say some of this pressure could be eased by developing tissue harvesting laws which regulate operations on people who have passed on, but have healthy body parts, just as is the case in developed countries.

“The issue of death and harvesting of tissues is very sensitive especially in the African culture,” argues Dr. Mutiso. “But I think for the good and health of the country this issue should be addressed as soon as possible so that organs can be harvested from individuals to assist others.”

But it is not only the shortage of joints that continues to trouble the resource constrained sector. Shortage of equipment and orthopedicians is an age old challenge.

For instance, explains Dr. Mutiso, in orthopedics every surgery needs specific highly specialized instruments, but each of these sets of instruments is extremely expensive, fetching millions of shillings per set.

“If I am operating on a hand, the instruments I need for that hand are different from when I am operating on an arm or leg or foot or spine,” he says. “This means that if one item among those instruments goes wrong, then almost all the instrument set becomes obsolete.”

Staff shortage is another problem that was the subject of discussion during a scientific conference in Nairobi, which they linked to lengthy training and few learning institutions offering orthopedics.

For instance, there are only two institutions in the country that provide training for orthopedic surgeons, where one is in Eldoret while the other is at the Medical School, University of Nairobi (UON).

Prof. Josphat Mulimba, chairman of the department of orthopedic surgery, UON, says students must bear six years of training to obtain a first degree in medicine, another four in internship, then endure more time in specialized athroplasty training.

“The training can take almost twelve years,” says Prof. Mulimba. “But even after that one has to work for a couple of years before being registered as a specialist orthopedic surgeon.”

According to KOA, about 3,000 to 4,000 Kenyans die from road accidents every year, but the injured ones are four times more.

“Many of these accident victims are bread winners so in the broader picture the entire family is affected when one of their kin is crippled,” says Dr. Mutiso.


About seventysixthstreet

Science and human rights journalist, Kenya
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