Feature BMJ Awards 2014

Karen Woo Surgical Team Award: making a difference in the UK and abroad

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g1995 (Published 10 March 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1995
  1. Anne Gulland, freelance journalist
  1. 1London, UK
  1. annecgulland{at}yahoo.co.uk

The award honours a UK based surgical team that has measurably improved surgical care for patients or had an effect on a wider population basis. Anne Gulland looks at this year’s candidates

This award is inspired by the life of Karen Woo, a British surgeon who was killed while working on an aid mission in Afghanistan in 2010. Woo had a masters in surgical education and she was particularly interested in the psychology of communication and information transfer.

Operation Hernia

About 10 years ago consultant surgeon Andrew Kingsnorth attended a conference where a speaker described setting up a field hospital in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest for the treatment of hernia. This set Kingsnorth wondering if he could do something similar.

A colleague helped him make contacts in Takoradi, Ghana, and in 2005 a surgical team ran its first hernia repair mission in the city. Since then, Operation Hernia has spread to 16 countries, its teams have performed around 12 000 operations, and volunteer surgeons and anaesthetists hail from all over the world.

“Hernia repair is the commonest, treatable surgical procedure, but in Africa it is rarely performed,” says Kingsnorth. He believes Operation Hernia is plugging a gap: hernia disproportionately affects men, who are not traditional aid recipients, and surgery is rarely targeted by aid agencies.

“The millennium development goals don’t touch on surgery at all, and in Africa there is just one surgeon for every 250 000 people,” he says.

The teams operate in hospitals that have at least one operating theatre and basic equipment and where follow-up can be provided by teams of community health workers. Operation Hernia teams also train local doctors and nurses.

The project has pioneered the use of mosquito net mesh, first used in India, to replace expensive hospital grade mesh. About $10 worth of mosquito net …

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