RFA is making steady progress as an organization as reflected by our accomplishments. We continue to work towards increasing access to rheumatology care in resource limited areas in Africa by improving rheumatology education.
Drs. Birhanu Demelash and Becky Adnugna, two Ethiopian physicians who Rheumatology for All (RFA) sponsored for fellowship training in rheumatology in South Africa, returned to Ethiopia. They are now seeing more than one hundred patients each week in their rheumatology clinics.
RFA was very gratified by these comments from one of Dr. Demelash’ s patients: “I was diagnosed to have rheumatoid arthritis in 2014. Although I visited several doctors and hospitals my condition deteriorated quickly to the point where I became unable to walk on my own. I was, hence, forced to seek treatment abroad. My condition improved significantly with the treatment I received from a rheumatologist in Johannesburg, South Africa. My follow up visits to the center were every four months and the costs were prohibitively expensive. I had to spend over 150,000 birr (Approximately 3,000 USD) for various expenses (airfare accommodation, consultation fees, medicines, etc.) during every follow up visit. In February 2021 my doctor informed me that I no longer needed to go to South Africa and referred me to the Rheumatology specialist in Addis Ababa, Dr. Birhanu Demelash. I started my follow up with Dr. Birhanu Demelash in April 2021. I am extremely pleased that I now have the possibility to get ‘world class treatment’ at very little cost and without all the discomfort associated with traveling long distances. My condition is very good at present.”
In addition to seeing their patients, Drs. Adnugna and Demelash supervise medical residents during their rheumatology rotation. Thus, they are empowering these physicians to diagnose and treat patients with rheumatic diseases.
Drs. Becky Adnugna and Birhanu Demelash have been involved in several collaborative research projects including one funded by the International League of Associations for Rheumatology studying the impact of COVID-19 on rheumatology patients. The cost of the training for Drs. Becky Adnugna and Birhanu Demelash by RFA will be returned many times over in improved care and outcomes of rheumatology patients in Ethiopia.
RFA will soon sponsor Dr. Hanna Lishan, a pediatrician on the faculty of Tikur Anbessa Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There are currently no pediatric rheumatologists in Ethiopia and when Dr.Lishan graduates, she will become the first in Ethiopia. Treated early, many of the complications associated with rheumatic disease in childhood can be prevented or at least ameliorated. Dr. Lishan has been accepted into a two-year fellowship in pediatric rheumatology in Cape Town, South Africa, starting January 2023, and we look forward to following her progress.
“I am [excited] to have been accepted for a Pediatric Rheumatology fellowship. Being the first Pediatric Rheumatologist in Ethiopia means to become a person of change for many children with rheumatologic diseases. I look forward to this long journey ahead of me and I am ready to serve children with this problem in the best possible way.”
For the past two years RFA has participated in a virtual rheumatology interactive lecture series for the medical residents of University of Rwanda in Kigali. Faculty has been truly international with rheumatologists from several countries including the United States, Canada, Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana.
In March 2022, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada granted funds to aid RFA in sponsoring a Rwandan physician for rheumatology fellowship. This grant will help fund a substantial portion of the fellowship but will not cover all costs. We are in the process of vetting a candidate for this position. We will need help from our donors to cover the balance of the costs of this fellowship. This investment will help improve rheumatology care in Rwanda.