Surgical breakthrough

A less invasive type of lung surgery was performed in Namibia for the first time yesterday.

24 August 2016 | Health

A less invasive type of lung surgery was performed in Namibia for the first time yesterday.

Namibia made medical history yesterday when world-renowned Spanish surgeon Dr Diego Gonzalez Rivas performed a new type of lung surgery in the revamped Windhoek Central Hospital theatre.
The technique, known as uniportal video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery, had so far only been used in South Africa, making Namibia the second African country to employ this method.
Rivas made his breakthrough in 2010 with this technique, which not only cuts down on operating time but also significantly reduces the patient’s recovery period.
According to Rivas, who was here on the invitation of the health ministry, this technique leaves the patient with only a single scar as opposed to the conventional large wound.
“The aim of this operation is to not spread the ribs. The most painful thing of a surgery is spreading the ribs. And it is also about the quality of life that you give to the patient. The immunology system of the patient is also preserved,” explained Rivas.
He pointed out that state-of-the-art equipment used for this technique is expensive, but that it would definitely be an investment and eventually be a cheaper alternative in future. “It is like an investment, you save money on intensive care units because there are fewer complications, a reduced rate of pneumonia, pain and bleeding,” he said.

A group of local medical experts led by Dr Jones Nghaamwa and Dr Nico Feris joined Rivas yesterday to remove the right lung of a patient who had suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis in the past.
According to Nghaamwa the lung had to be removed because it had holes and the patient was coughing up blood. What sets this method apart from the conventional approaches is the fact that there is only a single incision with no rib spreading. According to the Namibian team leader this is an encouraging venture for the country’s young doctors who want to think outside the box.
“We plan to do many. This is the beginning of a journey. We need to switch our minds and our techniques.”

“I am watching young doctors who are the new generation and who want to do this kind of thing. So we have to adapt in order to improve ourselves,” said Nghaamwa.
The surgical team consisted of Willem Tak, Louis du Toit, Dr Nico Feris, Dr Florian Fleermuys, Dr Jones Nghaamwa, Steffie Blom, Petrina Mungunda and Ndapewa Shilongo, while Launa Bennett and Armas Shifotoka represented the Lady Pohamba Private Hospital.
Nghaamwa said uniportal thoracoscopic surgery is definitely the future for Namibian medicine.
Yesterday’s operation took about three hours and was preceded by a public lecture at the School of Medicine on Monday.
“This would not have been possible without this brilliant team. And it was an honour to have worked with Rivas, who has travelled the world. It was amazing watching him in action, the doctors and especially the students were inspired and now realise that they can specialise in the future and become the best in what they do,” Nghaamwa said.
Nghaamwa added that the procedure was a great achievement for the health ministry and a privilege for him as a doctor.

Lung cancer

Most of Rivas’s procedures using this technique have been done on lung cancer patients although the technique can be used for any kind of lung surgery.
“Most of my procedures are lung cancer, because most of our research in Europe is on cancer,” Rivas explained.

TB in Namibia

Namibia is the fourth worst TB-affected country in the world, with 9 882 patients diagnosed with the disease in 2014.
This was said by Health Minister Bernard Haufiku during the National TB Day commemoration last year.
During a recent stakeholder meeting the minister expressed concern that Namibia is missing about 30% of TB cases, which has contributed to the high rate of the disease.
“Especially in the mining sector, I think that is where we are missing the point,” he said.