Nigeria isn’t glamorous, explains Dr. Michael Finkel, a neurologist at the Physicians Regional Healthcare System in North Naples.
But when it comes to medical care — and especially neurological care — it has one of the greatest needs in all of Africa. It’s estimated that for every 3 million people living in Nigeria, there is one neurologist to care for them, said Finkel. For every 7.5 million people, there is one neurosurgeon.
Such percentages make it difficult for doctors to reach and serve their patients properly, or to advance the overall state of neurological care for the country’s 150 million residents.
“You have people there that want to do things,” Finkel said. “And they’re being hung up.”
This was why in November, Finkel participated in a partnership between several national, state and Nigerian neurological organizations to share research, information and technology with members of Nigeria’s medical community. And he has plans to head back to the country again this year to help again. Finkel has also visited several other countries around the world for often the same reasons — to help other neurologists gain more knowledge and tools, so they in turn, can help people in their countries.
More than 230 physicians and medical practitioners participated in the multi-day conference, a number that included neurologists and neurosurgeons, as well as psychiatrists, internists, family practitioners, physical therapists, nurses and other caregivers.
Most importantly, Finkel explained, the Nigerians were paying participants in the partnership, contributing $2,500 of the cost of the conference. As such, they had a greater investment in the outcome of the partnership. That’s essential, Finkel said, because often in underdeveloped countries, outsiders arrive and impart information that can’t be used by the local community.
Then, they leave. Finkel likens it to being sort of like Santa Claus.
“A lot of the information that comes in, it’s very Western, it can’t be adapted, there’s no follow-up, there’s no measurement of what’s happened,” he said.
By contrast, part of the aim of the November conference was to help the local medical community create “evidence-based medicine based on local conditions.”
It wasn’t only the Nigerian community who benefitted, though: Again, the conference was intended as a partnership between American and Nigerian doctors, giving them a chance to exchange medical information from within their own communities. In one case, a Nigerian physician presented the findings of a patient who appeared to have the symptoms of a Machado-Joseph Disease, an illness that is frequently found in former Portuguese colonies.
Finkel has since connected the Nigerian doctor with a Portuguese neurologist-geneticist, intending to advance both their research.
Also as part of the partnership, neurological “tool kits” were distributed to the attendees. The tool kits, which included items such as medical scissors, an eye chart and a reflex hammer, were paid for with funds donated by Physicians Regional Healthcare System and Neuroscience and Spine Associates, which have offices at Physicians Regional.
The tool kits weren’t elaborate, but were helpful additions to the medical bags of his Nigerian colleagues, Finkel explained.
“These are 19th century equipment, but this is how all the great neurological breakthroughs came through,” he said.
Finkel is president of the World Neurology Foundation, a nonprofit organization that serves as a charitable arm of the World Federation of Neurology. The foundation partners with national and international neurological associations to support and promote improved neurological care in needy countries around the world.
The World Neurology Foundation — which has provided tool kits to other countries, such as Ethiopia — also provided financial support for the Nigeria-Florida Neuroscience Partnership. Although Nigeria and Florida may seem to have little in common, Finkel believes they are not as different as they seem.
He hopes the partnership will continue, and that more local neurologists will take up the cause.
“Why not Florida? Why not Nigeria? We’re both (former) colonies. We have multiple languages. We have multiple nationalities,” he said.
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Contact Elizabeth Kellar at firstname.lastname@example.org.