Project HOPE Volunteer Medical Team to Provide Care, Expertise in Liberia

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West Africa-born Doctors Determined to 'Give Back' to Needy Nation

Liberia has been through immense social trauma but its people seem determined to rebuild. Their progressive leadership appeals to me and I am very keen to see the local environment for myself.

A stellar team, including West Africa-born doctors is heading to Liberia, taking medical expertise honed in top U.S. medical schools to an impoverished nation plagued by widespread disease, high mortality rates and rudimentary healthcare.

The 11-person team, acting under the umbrella of Virginia-based global health education and humanitarian organization, Project HOPE, will train Liberian surgeons, conduct surgery at Phebe Hospital outside Monrovia, and instruct 100 medical professionals from across West Africa on February 28 at the capital’s Samuel Doe Stadium. Six of the HOPE medical volunteers on the week-long mission hail from West Africa and the others are American-born surgeons.

Liberia, a nation founded by freed US slaves, has endured decades of grinding poverty, truncated development and has frequently been consumed by wars and political unrest.

It ranks 160 among nations listed in terms of density of hospital beds per head of the population -- with just 0.7 beds for 1,000 people. (CIA World Factbook)

Yet hope is stirring for a better future under Nobel Peace Prize-winning President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the country is seeking outside help to improve its lot and meet its UN Development goals.

"Liberia has been through immense social trauma but its people seem determined to rebuild," said Dr Chumy Nwogu, a thoracic surgeon and cancer specialist at the University of Buffalo, and a veteran of previous medical missions in Nigeria.

"Their progressive leadership appeals to me and I am very keen to see the local environment for myself and to meet the people."

For many of the HOPE volunteers, the mission, in partnership with the Association of Academic Surgery and the West African College of Surgeons, fulfills a strong sense of personal mission to leverage skills and experience learned in one of the world's most advanced health systems for the benefit of a nation lacking many basic services. Their background in Africa also prepares them for the testing environment they will face, thick with personal and professional challenges.

"In many ways, traveling to Liberia is a lot easier for me than some in my group who have never traveled to the region because I had my upbringing in Africa," said Dr Benedict Nwomeh, who was born in a Nigerian village and trained as a surgeon in Britain and the U.S. Dr. Nwomeh teaches pediatric surgery at Ohio State University.

"I can identify with the level of poverty, limited education, and poor health services in Liberia. I believe that with my background I will help to serve as a crucial link between other team members and the locals."

Dr. Nwomeh believes that Liberia will only succeed when well-trained Liberian doctors, women and midwives are given the skills and resources they need to help their own people.

This aspiration tracks closely with Project HOPE's core goal of giving people and medical professionals in the developing world the medical knowledge and expertise needed to construct their own health care infrastructure.

“Project HOPE’s medical volunteers will share unique insight and expertise on this mission and they are eager to help West Africa move closer to reaching the ambitious targets outlined in the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015. I believe our volunteers will play a key role in this effort,” said John P. Howe III, M.D., President and CEO of Project HOPE.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight international development goals which all United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015. The goals include new commitments to women’s and children’s health and other initiatives to fight poverty, hunger and disease.

Part of the HOPE mission is designed to bring the team into close contact with medical students and practicing surgeons to lay the groundwork for future collaboration between Liberian health professionals and their US counterparts.

"We are going to be doing a lot of teaching with the goal of empowering West African academic surgeons to be more effective researchers, organize improved systems and become better teachers," said Dr. Akpofure Ekeh, Associate Professor of Surgery at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and a veteran of previous medical missions to Mexico, Egypt, Gabon and Guinea.

"I have always been interested in giving back. This partnership with Project HOPE was a unique opportunity to do just that in a myriad of ways," Dr. Ekeh said.

About Project HOPE
Founded in 1958, Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) is dedicated to providing lasting solutions to health crises, with the mission of helping people to help themselves. Identifiable to many by the SS HOPE, the world’s first peacetime hospital ship, Project HOPE now conducts land-based medical training and health education programs in 35 countries across five continents.

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Geraldine Carroll
Project Hope
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