Rambam Medical Center in Haifa is training a surgeon from the Democratic Republic of Congo in burn treatment and plastic surgery, a field that 33-year-old Dr. Leon Mubenga says does not exist in his country. Upon completing the two-month course, Mubenga will be the first doctor in his country trained to care for burns, an area of specialization he said is desperately needed.
“Treatment options are few due to limited knowledge and suitable equipment. In contrast to Western countries, many patients with relatively small percentages of burns on their bodies die,” he said.
The surgeon was sent to Rambam by Project Moriah Africa, a voluntary organization founded by Dr. Gila Garaway and which is dedicated to assisting the Congo Republic.
Garaway, an environmental development specialist living in Tiberias, founded the group in 2002 after her husband died in a plane crash. The couple had worked together for many years in Congo as consultants for different organizations, and as the 62-year-old specialist explained, “In this project we constantly seek experts with whom we can collaborate.”
Dr. Yosef Berger, senior physician in Rambam's Department of Plastic Surgery and Director of the Plastic Surgery Service at Poriyah Hospital in Tiberias, is a long-time acquaintance of Garaway, and helped introduce the project at Rambam.
An initial plan to send Berger to Africa to train doctors was scuttled at the last minute when funding pledges didn't materialize, and instead Mubenga, who works in a large hospital in the city of Bokabo, was brought to Haifa. The facility where the Congolese surgeon works serves an area larger than the State of Israel – the eastern part of Congo, considered a war zone in recent years.
The difference in prognosis for a burn victim in Israel and one in Congo is stark. According to Professor Yehuda Ullman, Rambam's Director of Plastic Surgery and Chairman of the Israel Association of Plastic Surgery, a Congolese victim suffering with burns on as little as 30 percent of his body might die. In Israel, however, noted Ullman, “we succeed in saving those with burns on 80 to 90 percent of their bodies.”
Mubenga has worked hard since beginning the program two weeks ago, said project officials. “These have been two eventful weeks, and Dr. Mubenga has taken part in six operations,” Ullman noted. “While he is here, Dr. Mubenga can certainly gain the expertise needed to save his patients.”
The Congolese surgeon, meanwhile, vowed to pass his knowledge on to his colleagues upon his return. “This way,” he said, “we can save more lives.”