Donated Microscopes Enable Neurosurgery in Tanzania

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Roger Härtl and the generosity of Leica and Zeiss, two surgical microscopes are now available for use by surgeons in Tanzania. The intra-operative microscopes were delivered to hospitals in Bugando and Dar es Salaam in December and are now up and running in surgical suites.

Dr. Härtl, chief of spinal surgery at the Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center, leads the neurosurgical Mission in Tanzania, which provides ongoing training to health care providers in that east African nation. With only five neurosurgeons in a country of 49 million people, Tanzania was once able to provide only very limited neurosurgical care for victims of trauma, birth defects, and other conditions of the brain and spine.  For the past seven years, however, Dr. Härtl and his team have been partnering with colleagues in Africa to train surgeons and other health care professionals on state-of-the-art neurosurgical techniques to save lives and improve quality of life.

“I talked to representatives of both Leica and Zeiss to let them know about our training program in Tanzania,” says Dr. Härtl. “Our goal is always to move local hospitals toward self-sufficiency, not dependency on us – that’s why we spend our annual trips to East Africa training doctors and nurses on how to care for patients, not delivering that care ourselves. We teach surgeons microsurgical techniques, but they can’t use those skills without microscopes. These two donations go a long way toward making neurosurgical care available, delivered by well-trained doctors using modern intra-operative microscopes.”

It’s not easy to get donated equipment to Tanzania, even with generous and willing equipment manufacturers. Companies are able to refurbish and donate microscopes that are being replaced by ever-newer models, but delivering them to East Africa is no small task. Dr. Härtl reports that these microscopes, which are worth several hundred thousand dollars, were sent earlier in 2014 to a local company that specializes in facilitating medical shipments to developing countries and then to Colorado, where they were put on a container for shipment – along with other medical and surgical supplies needed in Africa.  The complex process of shipping, clearing customs, and delivering the contents of the container can take months and is extremely expensive.

“It can cost $8,000 to $10,000 just for the shipping,” says Dr. Härtl. “But the payoff once these microscopes arrive is immeasurable.” The microscopes, he adds, are not specific to spinal surgery and will be put to use for a wide variety of surgical procedures.

More about the Mission in Tanzania | More about Dr. Härtl



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