Orthopaedic colleagues who live and practice in low-resource areas around the world have clearly voiced that they want support from better-resourced partners. But such efforts must be sustainable, a key point emphasized by Woolley et al. in their thought-provoking 2019 JBJS “What’s Important” essay regarding orthopaedic care in Haiti. In contrast to “medical missions” offering short-term assistance for a small number of patients, longer-term systemwide gains come from partnerships focused on education and training that acknowledge the central role of local orthopaedic practitioners in addressing the ongoing needs of their patients.
Along those lines, Agarwal-Harding et al. describe a 3-phase pathway for improving ankle-fracture management in sub-Saharan Malawi in their recent JBJS report. In the first 2 phases, the local knowledge base and treatment strategies were assessed. (Greater than 90% of orthopaedic trauma care in the country is provided by nonphysician “clinical officers,” and most ankle-fracture management in Malawi is nonoperative because there is only about 1 orthopaedic surgeon per 1.9 million Malawians). A team of Malawian and US faculty then designed and implemented an education course that reviewed ankle anatomy, fracture classification, and evidence-based treatment guidelines. From that arose standardized protocols to improve fracture-care quality and safety in the face of limited resources.
While these protocols were unique to the Malawian context, I am convinced that similar interventions can be adapted for other low-resource environments—as long as local clinicians are part of the process. With such a flexible and sustainable program in place, efforts can then be directed toward the advancement of surgical skills and development of cost-effective supply chains. We should all support such efforts worldwide, recognizing that the burden of musculoskeletal trauma is a public health issue warranting collaborative solutions with lasting impact.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
Click here for a related OrthoBuzz post about trauma care in Malawi.