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Shortage Of Orthopedics Fueling Rising Disability 

By Divine Ntaryike Jr — Experts note that the protracting failure to address intra-urban transportation needs across several Sub-Saharan African cities is fuelling a steadily escalating emergence and expansion of various dicey forms of commuter services.  One of them is the motorcycle taxi business, dubbed “bend-skin” in Cameroon or “Okada” in neighboring Nigeria.

In Cameroon’s largest city, Douala, authorities have been nibbling their fingernails for years contemplating how to enforce respect for the Highway Code in the vastly chaotic sector, currently being invaded by passenger-transporting tricycles.  City Council estimates put the figure of the two- and three-wheeled taxis in the metropolis at 70,000, though separate sources argue it is five times more.

Away from the quantity debates however, medics at the city’s most-popular healthcare facility, the Laquintinie Hospital accuse the riders of responsibility for over 90 percent of all inner-city road accidents.  They not only flout all rules governing road usage, but categorically refuse to wear helmets among others.  And the consequences are blatant. 

In 2011 alone, 45,000 of all patients hospitalized at the sickbay were victims of “bend-skin”-related accidents.  About a third died from their injuries, while over half of the survivors emerged with various physical disabilities or psychic trauma. 

“I can safely say without fear of contradiction that African cities tolerating motorbikes as a means of public transport record at least one accident victim admitted in hospital daily.  It is a pedestrian, commuter or rider who dies or is rushed to hospital with trauma of varying degrees of severity,” Prof Mohamadou Habib Sy, President of the African Society of Orthopedists and Traumatologists told a conference held in the Cameroonian capital on July 5.

“It has become a scourge and we are here to sound the alarm bell,” he added, noting with regret that the number of orthopedists working to correct accident-linked deformities of the skeletal system  as well as traumatologists tasked with surgical repairs of injuries arising from accidents remain too few across the continent. 

Cameroon for example with over 20 million inhabitants counts only 20 orthopedists all clustered in the country’s biggest cities, Douala and Yaoundé.  “That’s about one orthopedist per million inhabitants and very far off the WHO recommendation of one per 50, 000,” Prof Jean Bahebeck, President of the Cameroon Society of Orthopedics and Head of the Orthopedics and Trauma Unit at the Yaoundé Central Hospital explained. 

“The outcomes are several, including costly hospital treatment and various unorthodox practices which may end in amputations or patients being handicapped for life.  Many accident victims are shying away from hospitals and banking on traditional healers for massage and bone-affixing, a common practice whereby human bones are tied around a fracture area for healing” he added.

Elsewhere, experts summoned to the Yaoundé conclave pinpointed pitiable pay and poor working conditions, [including a crying lack of adequate equipment] as major factors fuelling an ongoing brain drain in the sectors.  They nonetheless resolved to lobby their respective governments to encourage budding medical students to specialize in both fields of medicine.

“These are branches of medicine with increasingly high demand when you count the number of accidents on our roads today, but they remain largely unknown across Africa.  We are urging our governments to train more specialists in these fields of medicine especially considering that in Cameroon for example, fractures, rheumatisms and other ailments linked to bones constitute the second biggest health problem after infectious diseases,” Prof Bahebeck concluded.

Training in traumatology and orthopedics went underway in Cameroon two years ago, and it is hoped in the near future, the gaps will begin to be gradually filled.  Other African countries are being encouraged to emulate the example.

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