Rancho Santa Fe Rotary donations help doctor treat children in Malawi

The Rancho Santa Fe Rotary Club recently hosted Dr. Wone Banda, the very first plastic surgeon resident in Malawi, Africa. Through the Rotary’s support of ConnectMed, a beneficiary of the 2015 Taste of Rancho Santa Fe event, Banda will be able to gain critical surgical training that will help her better treat her overwhelming case load in the pediatric burn unit where she works.

Banda was able to make the stop in Rancho Santa Fe on her way to the American Society of Plastic Surgery’s “The Meeting” conference in Los Angeles and was a guest of Rotarian Rita Abbati, the executive director of ConnectMed, a global surgical and education collaborative.

Abatti first met Banda in 2014 during a surgical outreach trip in Malawi. Other organizations such as Operation Smile and Smile Train had come to the country to perform surgeries, but Banda said they found that, for the long-term, it is more sustainable to train local people like herself to provide those services.

Banda grew up in Lilongwe, Malawi and attended a Catholic all-girls school. She graduated from Malawi College of Medicine in 2009, the only medical school in the country. She made the decision to become a surgeon after a rotation watching the repair of a cleft lip.

“I saw a disfigured child and parents that were anxious because their knowledge was not good,” Banda said, noting some in the village even thought the child’s cleft lip was caused by the parents’ witchcraft. “This was a family that was destroyed”

“After the surgery was complete, I saw an instant transformation in this child. I was moved. I thought to myself, ‘This is what I wanted to do,” Banda said. 

As Banda said, Malawi is a very small slice of the African map, but the population is quite large for such a small country. The population is about 17,849,781 and there are only two plastic surgeons in the entire country, with two more in training.

“It’s quite a huge burden,” Banda said.

Banda is a fellow at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, the largest hospital in the southern region of the country. 

“The majority of the work we do is burns and reconstructive surgery and complications from burns injuries,” said Banda, who notes the 40 beds in the unit really pushes it with the amount of cases they see.

Burns are the leading cause of injuries to children, since in Malawi families cook meals over a hot open fire. Children are often burned by hot water or the open fire.

“There are plenty of challenges in Malawi; first is the capacity of the burn unit itself and a lack of resources,” Banda said, noting they are often short on equipment, bandages and wound care, and especially nutrition as burn victims require a high-protein diet and sometimes they succumb to malnutrition. “Surgeons also need access to courses, fellowships and training for a broader skills base.” 

With ConnectMed’s support, Banda spent a month-long rotation with Dr. Amanda Gosman and the UC San Diego Division of Plastic Surgery, observing reconstructive surgical care at UCSD and Rady Children’s Hospital in March 2015. She also had a one-year clinical placement at Canniesburn plastic surgery unit in Glasgow, Scotland.

“This helped me gain more experience; as you can imagine, it’s not possible to get the scope of training in Malawi,” Banda said.

She has been involved in a lot of research on pediatric burns, determining the demographic characteristics of childhood burns, finding risk factors and improving outcomes. While in San Diego last year, she presented her research on pediatric burns at UCSD and again at the Australian and New Zealand Burn Association’s international burn conference in November of 2015, all possible through ConnectMed.

With the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary’s support, through the grant provided by the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, Banda will be able to take a specialized microsurgery course in Scotland this fall.

Banda said this training is very important, to gain skills in procedures such as micro-anastomosis and free-flap surgery.

“This will help when I get back home to perform surgeries that I couldn’t do before,” Banda said.

“It just demonstrates how a gift from a Rotary Club in San Diego can have an impact for a long time,” Abatti said.

This year’s RSF Rotary Taste of Rancho Santa Fe fundraiser will be held on Sunday, Oct. 9 from 4 to7 p.m. at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. Guests can indulge in wine tastings and a variety of offerings from local restaurants, as well as bid on silent auction items. Proceeds will benefit Project Concern International, Kids Korps, J.C. Cooley Foundation, ChildHelp, Big Brothers Big Sisters and San Diego Children Discovery Museum and the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary Foundation. For tickets or more information, visit tasteofrsf.org.

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