When Pamela Brower taught doctors in The Republic of Congo sonogram techniques, they responded a little differently than her Tyler Junior College students do.
“They hover over you to watch,” she said. “They’re very excited.”
Mrs. Brower’s trip at the beginning of September was the first implementation of a formal training program with Mercy Ships in sonography. She is the department chair for diagnostic medical sonography at Tyler Junior College.
Mrs. Brower and another volunteer, Dr. Bob Harris, taught native doctors about how to use sonograms to check the health of a pregnancy, as well as catch issues with thyroids, liver and kidneys.
“He was Batman, I was Robin,” Mrs. Brower said with a laugh.
The need for trained doctors in The Republic of Congo is staggering; in 2007, the World Health Organization reported only .95 doctors per 10,000 residents or 9.5 per 100,000 residents.
“One key problem is the ‘brain drain,’ or tendency for highly skilled members of a work force to migrate to a more economically developed country,” according to a written release from Mercy Ships.
“For example, in the Mercy Ships target region, approximately 42 percent of African-born physicians work in the U.S. or Europe. While the cause of this migration vary amongst individuals and countries, access to additional or better education is one of the factors affecting this movement of intellectual capital. In a study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), between 28 percent and 65 percent of African health care professionals cited education opportunities as a reason for leaving their home country.”
Many doctors are self-taught, Mrs. Brower said.
“According to WHO, the risk of care-associated infection can be 20 times higher in developing countries than in developed countries,” reads the release from Mercy Ships. “Estimates indicate that as many as 10 percent of patients are injured while receiving hospital care. In some countries, almost 70 percent of injections are administered with reused, unsterilized syringes or needles.
“It is not enough to simply perform surgeries in developing countries; providers must offer safe, quality care that keeps the patient’s well-being at the center of the intervention. Improving this element of health delivery is necessary to advance outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
The educational team invited 15 doctors to participate in the educational program; 35 showed up after word of mouth spread.
“It really highlights their desire to learn,” Michelle Bullington, programs design director for Mercy Ships, said.
Ultrasound machines are much more portable than they used to be, Mrs. Brower said. Now all that’s needed is a laptop and a transdoser, (the wand that comes in contact with the patient for a sonogram).
“This is teaching a man to fish versus giving him a fish,” she said.
The Congo equipment is functional, but they need funding to upgrade it, Mrs. Brower said.
Mercy Ships is committed to improving through education, Ms. Bullington said, but they are cautious to only provide equipment when they believe it won’t create a dependency.
“We hope to demonstrate the value of medical education,” she said.
Mrs. Brower hopes to return next year and devote more time after she retires.
“(The Congolese people are) so sweet and kind and appreciative,” she said.