SIERRA LEONE—At the 64th Conference and Scientific Meeting of the West African College of Surgeons (WACS), renowned surgeons and medical specialists from around West Africa and beyond convened in Freetown, Sierra Leone, from March 3-7 to discuss strategies to accelerate access to surgical care and education.  

The week-long event is an important milestone in showing West Africa’s medical skills, providing a forum for people to exchange ideas and collectively create the future of surgery and anaesthesia.

The event also highlighted the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health (MOH)’s significant success through worldwide partnerships.

Speaking at the event’s opening session at the Bintumani Conference Centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s Vice President, Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, stated that collaboration and strengthening surgical provisions are making a tangible difference in addressing Sierra Leoneans’ unmet surgical needs, but there is still much work to be done.

While applauding accomplishments, he emphasized that 91% of the country’s surgical requirements remain unfulfilled.

He pledged to expand and defend surgical access, as well as to work together to address healthcare shortages with renowned surgeons and medical professionals from West Africa and beyond.

He went on to stress that in the future, they will pay close attention to surgeon regulations and expand training for both experts and non-specialists, as 70% of the world’s population lacks access to safe and cheap surgery, which is critical.

He also noted the growth in surgical procedures in Sierra Leone and went into greater detail during a joint symposium for delegates hosted by charities CapaCare, Mercy Ships, and Lifebox.

Håkon Bolkan, founder of CapaCare, which is dedicated to medical education and training, detailed how more community health officials trained in various surgical procedures, resulting to an increase in operations offered to patients in need, particularly in remote areas.  

This increase mostly benefits maternity, with obstetric and gynecological treatments such as caesareans growing by 126.2% between 2012 and 2023 as a result of the government’s focus on boosting mother health.

During this time, ophthalmology increased by 12.2% and general surgery by 3.1%, whereas specialist areas such as orthopedics suffered a reduction of 27.6% in procedures. 

Dr. Austin Demby, Minister of Health, acknowledged progress and the need for more, stating that this year’s WACS topic resonated strongly with Sierra Leone’s commitment to safe and inexpensive surgical care.

He went on to say that Sierra Leone is rethinking healthcare in order to make every Sierra Leonean count and to provide services to everyone, from pregnancies to senior seniors, so that no one is left behind.

He also stated that he will advocate for equitable access to surgical treatment across the country because surgeries play an important part in healthcare delivery but there is still very restricted access to these types of healthcare areas, advocating for immediate action.

Walt Johnson, Mercy Ships’ National and International Advocacy Manager laid the groundwork for the development of a National Surgical, Obstetric, and Anesthetic Plan (NSOAP) to continue to strengthen and improve surgical care, both historically and in light of the Dakar Declaration, which saw nations commit to improvements in this area across the African continent by 2030.

He was also pleased to see Sierra Leonean surgeons showcasing their work as WACS and the MOH, in collaboration with one another and others, celebrate progress in advancing surgical excellence and healthcare while also addressing and working hard to meet key challenges in West Africa.

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