Interview with Tony Figaji 

In the last weekend of January 2016, AONeuro presented its first course on the African continent. In this interview, Tony Figaji, director of the AONeuro Course—Neurotrauma in Cape Town, South Africa, shares his insights on the significance of this event, and how such trainings can create immense impact in improving health worldwide.

This is the first time that AONeuro has held a course on the African continent.  Why Africa? Why now?
The best answer is why not Africa, and why not now. Africa is often stepped over. From North America to Europe to Asia to Australia, we have data on everything, yet somehow, Africa ends up being a black hole. Nobody really knows what is going on. Also, Africa is incredibly diverse. It is a very large continent, with over 50 different countries that are socially as well as economically very different. We mistakenly think of it as this one big unit; a very homogeneous mass. And while Africa faces enormous challenges, it also offers a tremendous amount of opportunities.

How prevalent is trauma in Africa?
The global burden of trauma in the world is dominant in low and middle income countries, particularly in Africa, India, China, and Latin America. Road traffic accidents are the main cause of trauma, with the majority of deaths due to head injuries. And as urban infrastructure and socio-economic statuses improve, road traffic will continue to increase.

Does neurotrauma in Africa get the attention it needs?
Africa is unlike North America or Europe, where a huge amount of work and money goes into preventative campaigns, resources and rehabilitation, for a relatively small percentage of overall the trauma burden in the world. In Africa, in particular, funding for trauma is a challenge, as most international and national funding on the continent is allocated to infectious diseases like tuberculosis and HIV. Therefore, the funding that is left for trauma and improved neurotrauma management is very, very small. The little bit that does flow into trauma care is mostly allocated to prevention, which is very appropriate and helps to reduce traumas, but does not obliterate it. This is why trauma is known as a silent epidemic in Africa.

How can AO trainings create impact in Iow and middle income countries?
Today, in many parts of Africa, one person, maybe even a general surgeon, is doing the job that 20 people are doing in other places around the globe when managing neurotraumas—that is the reality. AONeuro has the opportunity to greatly impact global health by providing educational opportunities in low and middle income countries, where the burden of disease is highest, by equipping doctors with the skills for good clinical management.