Only 15 plastic surgeons are qualified to treat the 29 million Ghanaians living in the country, says Dr. Kwame Darko, a plastic surgeon at Korle Bu Training Hospital’s Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and Burns Centre.
In an interview with Joy FM’s Super Morning Show host, Daniel Dadzie, Dr Darko said part of the problem is the arduous process of training medical professionals in the field. Typically the training period is seven to eight years.
Currently, there are five plastic surgeons at Korle Bu, one plastic surgeon at 37 Military Hospital, while the others are scattered at Cape Coast’s Central Regional Hospital and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi.
The World Health Organization advises there should be at least one reconstructive plastic surgeon for every 100,000 people in a country. That would mean Ghana would need 2,900 to meet the WHO’s recommendations.
Director of the National Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and Burns Centre Dr. Opoku Ware Ampomah believes part of the issue lies within the public's perception of plastic surgery.
“Plastic surgeons deal with a whole range of issues, but unfortunately because of media attention on the cosmetic side of our practice, people assume we are only involved with making people look more beautiful, [Cosmetic surgery] only covers a small gamete of what we do. We also cover burns, injuries and birth defects,” he said.
Earlier this year, a team of plastic surgeons at Korle Bu successfully reattached the chopped hand of a factory worker who severed it while operating a sawmill.
The patient was originally taken to 37 Hospital, but because only one plastic surgeon was staffed there, he needed to be referred to Korle Bu.
"This type of operation would have been extrmemly tedious for one surgeon to carry out," says Darko.
Despite the insufficient surgeons in the field, Dr. Ampomah has seen an improvement in the number of qualified medical personnel and expects it to rise.
“Our numbers are woefully inadequate, but when I completed my training we were just five and in the last several years we’ve seen that number triple.”
While plastic surgeons in the country are limited, Dr. Darko advises that in the event of an injury, wrap the extremity and place it in a bag, then place the bag in ice until help arrives. He warns, though, to ensure the ice does not come in direct contact with the extremity, or irreversible cell damage can occur.
Another critical factor relies heavily on transport.
“In my perspective, it boils down to the ambulance system. Once an assessment, diagnosis and recommendation is made that an injury must come here for treatment, some form of transport must kick in to send the person to the right place.”
As of 2015, the top five countries with the most plastic surgeons are the United States, Brazil, South Korea, India and Mexico.