LAST week President Hussein Ali Mwinyi, organised a reception for Mnazi Mmoja Referral Hospital (MMH) neurosurgeons to thank them for promoting Zanzibar internationally through their exemplary professional work.
The enthusiastic Mwinyi said he decided to organise a reception for the staffs because of the surgery they performed in January this year, which has helped to advertise Zanzibar international.
“It is high time we have a culture of expressing gratitude to doctors or workers who perform well, instead of criticism only. Let us thank them because of their good work which has been recognised internationally,” said Dr Mwinyi.
He said that the only Neurosurgeon department in the Isles headed by Dr Said Idrissa Ahmada had performed a successful surgery on a foreign patient from Nigeria who continues to talk positively about Zanzibar and the United Republic of Tanzania.
President Mwinyi thanked the staff and the supporting founder of the neurosurgeon department in Zanzibar, established in 2008, Prof Jose Piquer Belloch, a Consultant neurosurgeon and president of NED Institute (Neurosurgeon), Spain.
“The development of the neuro unit and the big operations gives hope of making Zanzibar a centre for better health care including ‘super specialty,” Dr Mwinyi said as asked health professionals to work harder.
The brief event was also attended by other dignitaries and stakeholders who joined the president to praise the development of neuro department, which has been growing gradually with a hope of becoming one of the recognised neurosurgery centres in east Africa.
Briefing the audience about the development of the department in the past decade, Dr Said Idrissa Ahmada, famous as ‘Dr Saidovich,’ said that the neurosurgeon department has been operating under ‘Neuro surgical Project Unit’ which is a collaborative Project between Spanish Neuro surgery Education Development (NED), and the ministry responsible for Health through Mnazi Mmoja Hospital.
The project was established in 2008 within MMH where the first team of five Spanish volunteers launched a neurosurgical theatre, followed by the opening of a NED Surgical Institute of MMH in 2014 by the retired President of Zanzibar Dr Ali Mohammed Shein. It is a Joint sponsorship between NED Foundation of Spain and Zanzibar Government.
He said for the first time, doctors came from Spain did a surgical operation despite lack of modern equipment and inexperienced medical staff. “But the case was successfully performed even without having the proper Neurosurgery equipment,” he said.
He said that although the neuro unit started without proper staffing, lack of experienced neurosurgeons, and equipment, it has been recording admirable achievement by this year with hope of growing faster. Dr Saidovich mentioned some of the achievements as big brain operation (Pituitary tumor) in 2018 which was done by using microscopy through trans-nasal trans-sphenoidal surgery.
He said that in January this year the unit performed another successful big operation prompting President Hussein Mwinyi to organise a ‘thank you reception.’ “We performed the operation of chronic subdural hematoma patient from Nigeria who came with symptoms of severe headache, dizziness, loss of memory and some episodes,” he said.
Dr Saidovich said before and after the big operations, they conducted surgeries to treat brain and spine injuries, build-up of fluid in the cavities deep within the brain (hydrocephalus), and birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly (Spina Bifida or Myelomeningocele).
They also conducted surgeries to treat neural tube defects (encephalocele) and back or neck pains caused by wear-and-tear on a spinal disc (Degenerative Disc Disease Cases). The neurosurgeons at Mnazi Mmoja Hospital have also performed spinal neurosurgeries for the elderly as well as spine fusions, he said.
He mentioned challenges facing the unit as shortage of staff, lack of general material maintenance and lack of some equipment “Our future plan for this neuro project is to improve neurosurgical care to the entire population of Zanzibar and training of local doctors, nurses and paramedical to meet the critical challenge of neurosurgical problems.
The January neurosurgery on Nigerian patient How unique was the January neurosurgery that went viral on social media? The January neurosurgery was performed on Nigerian patient, Ms Bibian who was in Zanzibar for Christmas vacation.
Oraye St Franklyn, a friend of the patient, says Ms Bibian had persistent headaches in November last year and was prescribed pain killers by her doctors which did not work. Ms Bibian and her siblings, Chidinma and Kasi decided to take a trip to Zanzibar for Christmas.
“What was meant to be a simple process became so complicated. First, their visas were delayed. Then when the visas were issued, finding a flight became almost impossible. A trip that was meant for Christmas was delayed until the 31st of December 2020,” he says.
“Bibian almost called off the trip. In fact, she complained of how a country like Tanzania would have such a rigorous visa issuing process. The roadblocks were just too much.” “You would see later that while all these were going on, Our Great God, the Perfect Organiser was orchestrating things for their favour.
You would see how when things don’t go our way after doing all that we possibly can to achieve them, we just need to concede to the will and purpose of God, especially when it is our daily prayer to work in God’s will and purpose. According to the narrator Oraye, they reached Dar es Salam, Tanzania on 1st of January 2021, spent some time there before going on to Arusha and later to Zanzibar
. “The trip to the island of Zanzibar was life-altering. Besides the fun that it presented, it was also the perfect bubble for good tourism on the continent. The experience was surreal,” he said. “What struck them first on arrival at Zanzibar, a predominantly Muslim society, was the exceptional goodness of the people. Each person greeted the other courteously and was genuinely interested in the good of the other.”
“Zanzibar people are so honest that they take it for granted that there is no dishonesty in the world. Honesty is so deeply entrenched in Zanzibar that Cab drivers don’t count the fares they receive from their passengers. They just chock it down somewhere as they receive it. This is happening in Africa.”
The only thing that kind of bothered Bibian was persistent headaches that wouldn’t go. They had become intense. More like sucking up the energy of her entire existence into her head. Then tragedy struck. She collapsed on the very day she arrived at Stone Town in Zanzibar, at Tembo Hotels in Zanzibar, where she lodged along with her sisters.
It seemed like the end of her existence. She was rushed to a nearby private hospital, where a scan was done as part of the investigation to ascertain the cause of her ailment. They broke the sad news to the trio, Bibian, Chidinma and Kasi that she had a blood clot on her brain and had to have an emergency brain surgery performed on her.
That was bad enough. When they were told the cost, it made it worse. Where could they get access to £7,000 to pay for the emergency brain surgery in Zanzibar of all places? As if that was not bad enough, the surgery would have to be performed in Dar es Salaam, the capital city of Tanzania.
The trouble was, even if they had the money on them, how she would be allowed to fly in her vegetable state. Time was running out. But without minding the imposing roadblocks, they made efforts to get money to ensure they stood a good chance at having the surgery done. But, unfortunately and sadly so, all walls were impregnable.
As the clock ticked away, and her life hung in the balance, she had to be moved to a Government hospital eventually because they couldn’t access their funds for the brain surgery and she also couldn’t fly out of Zanzibar in her condition. They were told there was only one Neuro-Surgeon in the whole of Zanzibar and he was at the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital, just about three minutes’ drive from their hotel.
Given that it was the only ray of hope left, the very last flare of the ebbing flame, they had no option but to take her there. That was how they knew about Dr Said Idrissa Ahmada, aka Dr Saidovich, a very unassuming and innocuous man who said he could perform the brain surgery. At this time Bibian was no longer part of the conversation.
On hearing the confidence of Dr Saidovich, Chidinma, objected to his bid to perform the brain surgery on Bibian. She felt both Dr Saidovich and the entire Mnazi Mmoja Hospital didn’t give the assurances she needed. It was a matter of life and death and this was her Sister. She had to be pretty sure.
Dr Saidovich calmly reassured, and his reassurance seemed to build her confidence, the ‘insha Allah’ shook it. Placing her faith in God, she consented to the surgery. “All the hospital staff were so warm. Bibian recalls receiving blessings even from other patients managing their own ailments. She wondered what sort of creatures were in Zanzibar,” the narrator wrote.
Why and how can these people be so good? A nurse even went as far as holding her hands and telling her that she would not let anything bad happen to her. Such infectious humanity! Purified love! The brain surgery was successful. What could have cost her £7,000 to perform was done free of charge.
All the travel and visa delays they had experienced were just to ensure they were at the right place and the right time. Why was the surgery free?
Healthcare is free for all citizens and there is no arrangement to charge foreigners. Oraye says it is unfortunate that great stories of Africa like Zanzibar are obscured by the continent’s shortcomings. “Bibian’s experience has made Zanzibar a destination we should all visit for tourism and an enriching life experience.”