Having a spinal deformity in Africa can be challenging. Known as lordosis, kyphosis or scoliosis, depending on how the spine is curved, the condition can occur due to various reasons, including birth defects, ageing and degeneration, to trauma.
For some patients with mild deformities, the curves may not cause any symptoms.
However, health experts say that when these spinal deformities lead to pain and dysfunction of the spinal cord or affect one’s ability to perform daily activities, treatment – surgical and/or non-surgical – may be required.
Given that public hospitals in Africa are few and the facilities are not so modern, operating on patients with spinal deformities is relatively costly and it is here Prof. Oheneba Boachie-Adjei steps in.
The former Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and former Chief of the Scoliosis Service at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) was born in Ghana before emigrating to the U.S. in 1972.
There, he completed undergraduate studies at Brooklyn College, where he received a Bachelor of Science (summa cum laude) in 1976. He received his Doctor of Medicine Degree from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1980.
Knowing the cash constraints back at home, he founded FOCOS (Foundation of Orthopedics and Complex Spine) in Ghana to help provide orthopaedic medical care to underserved populations in West Africa and other third world nations.
The founder of FOCOS, a nonprofit organisation established in 1998 operating in both the U.S. and Ghana, also served as an Associate Attending Orthopedic Surgeon at both HSS and New York-Presbyterian Hospital. As head of the Scoliosis Service at HSS, he deployed special expertise in the treatment of scoliosis, kyphosis, and spine reconstruction in both adult and pediatric patients.
In 2012, the FOCOS Orthopedic Hospital opened to the public its 70-bed specialty facility in Accra, Ghana, offering optimum quality care and services to patients in need. Since its inception, FOCOS has performed more than 2000 complex spine and joint surgeries and has treated over 43,000 patients.
The Ghanaian government, at the time, gave the initial grant of $1.5 million for the acquisition of land with $3 million being raised to start construction at Pantang. Donations from corporate organizations in the U.S., Ghana and other parts of the world have provided key equipment for the Accra facility, as well as funds to run the place.
Starting out by correcting spinal deformities, FOCOS now does adult reconstruction and pediatric orthopaedics. Treatment of the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles also happens at the facility.
Prof. Oheneba Boachie-Adjei notes “About 400 million people live in sub-Saharan Africa, but you won’t find more than 300 orthopedic surgeons there,” adding “the cases (operated upon in Accra) are the worst of the worst. They come from all over West Africa and as far as East Africa.”
But how did he land in medicine?
“When I was six, I got very sick and almost didn’t make it. A pediatrician where I lived in Ghana had just set up shop and took me on as a patient for two years, after which time, I became well. But he left an impression on me. If I wanted to be like anyone in the future, I wanted to be like him. I also knew I wanted to help because the need was so great,” Prof. Oheneba Boachie-Adjei told leadersmag.com.
Prof. Oheneba Boachie-Adjei, having laid the groundwork and made FOCOS a force for good, has attracted more corporate organizations from the U.S., specialists, volunteers, as well as, university undergraduates who visit the facility to offer donations and also to intern.