From my latest article in Lapido Media:
If not for Frehun Ayele, Fatima would still be wet with urine. The eleven-year-old native of war-torn Somalia traveled over 500 kilometers to Addis Ababa for an operation on her bladder, which was completely open to the skin since birth.
‘For children in need of surgery, it is a big challenge,’ Dr. Frehun told Lapido Media, describing waiting lists of over a year. ‘The most vulnerable in terms of disease severity, poverty, and distance, suffer much. Only the fittest survive.’
Frehun is unique as the first Ethiopian to be trained as a pediatric surgeon in Africa. Three months ago he halved the waiting list by opening the nation’s second pediatric surgery clinic, BethanyKids, in cooperation with the Korean-founded Myungsung Christian Medical Hospital.
‘Before the arrival of BethanyKids, there were three pediatric surgeons for over ninety million people,’ said Dr. Dan Poenaru, Frehun’s training surgeon and now partner in the clinic.
This was a very fun article to write. It was also a challenge, done remotely, relying on email. Many thanks to the people of PAACS for helping. PAACS, by the way, stands for the Pan-African Association of Christian Surgeons:
an organization dedicated to the training and discipling of African surgeons to provide excellent, compassionate care to those most in need.
Their work is for the good of the continent and all its religious adherents, but a very clear commitment to Jesus is part of their methodology, one which they believe makes all the difference:
Gray helped arrange the exchange of residents with the national training center in Addis Ababa University, which is open to students of all faiths. But according to Dr. Bruce Steffes, the executive director of PAACS, it may have been the organization’s Christian commitment which made the difference.
Speaking with a particular government minister who was suspicious of the missionaries, Steffes pointed out all twenty-eight PAACS graduates were serving in their local context, often in rural areas.
‘I may have influenced his decision,’ he said, ‘by pointing out that their desire to serve Jesus is what motivates them to serve in those areas.’
‘Many of the brightest and best medical students leave for training abroad, but after five years of training put down roots and stay there,’ he said.
Thompson said there is a greater than ninety percent attrition rate, a significant brain drain costing Africa the surgeons it needs. Even for those who do return, he says, most cannot function for more than a few years, as they were trained in ideal conditions in the West.
‘We train them in these resource poor environments,’ Thompson said, ‘so they know how to operate here.’