Advancing Neurology in Africa

A neurologist and attorney, James C. Johnston, MD, JD, is the founder of Global NeuroCare, a nongovernment organization (NGO). Global NeuroCare was established by Dr. James C. Johnston to improve neurological services in developing regions. Dr. Johnston and one of his Ethiopian colleagues Dr. Mehila Zebenigus, serve as Directors of this organization.

Holding Special Consultative Status with the United Nations ECOSOC, the highest status granted to an NGO by the UN, Global NeuroCare has engaged in a long-term collaborative partnership with Addis Abada University Department of Neurology to advance the training of physicians in Ethiopia. The Neurology Residency Training Program has been an outstanding success, substantially increasing the number of practicing neurologists in the country, leading to the treatment of more patients. These neurologists are also teaching a new generation of doctors to manage common neurological problems which represents the most effective was to improve healthcare in regions with a severe shortage of doctors and other healthcare providers.

On behalf of Global NeuroCare, Dr. Johnston and one of his Ethiopian colleagues Dr. Mehila Zebenigus have discussed the medical, ethical and legal aspects of advancing healthcare in developing regions at several meetings over the recent years including the United Nations High Level Political Forums, World Congresses for Medical Law and American Academy of Neurology conferences. They have highlighted the serious concerns of short term medical missions which fail to provide any substantive benefit to the host nation, and may cause significant harm to the local population. An additional concern is that developing nations have inherently vulnerable populations that may be intentionally or unintentionally exploited by these types of brief self-serving medical missions.

Drs. Zebenigus and Johnston presented the Ethiopian model to demonstrate that effective capacity development requires increasing the recruitment, training and retention of medical staff, which mandates stable long-term collaborative North-South partnerships focused on establishing local training programs, staffed by local physicians, to address the particular local community needs. They recently published a white paper for the UN on this topic, and will be present those recommendations at the 26th Congress Meeting of the World Association for Medical Law.

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