Nigeria native Dubem Obianagha, OMS II, wants to improve health care administration and delivery in the US and globally.
“I want to be actively involved with international health organizations like Doctors Without Borders,” he says. But as a future osteopathic physician, he may not be able to practice in some countries where that role might take him.
The AOA is actively seeking to help students like Obianagha by raising awareness of osteopathic medicine and advocating for DO practice rights across the globe, including in Africa. In July, an AOA delegation attended the Association of Medical Councils of Africa’s annual meeting. As an associate member, the AOA asked AMCOA to recognize US-trained DOs on the same basis as MDs.
AMCOA considered the pending petition and requested more time for its education committee to review osteopathic college curriculum standards. The committee is expected to make a recommendation within three months, which will then be put to a full vote.
In May, as a result of discussions with the AOA, the International Labour Organization declared it would classify US-trained DOs along with MDs as licensed physicians in its global labor standards. Potentially, this recognition could influence AMCOA’s decision. A positive vote would open the door to practice rights for DOs in 15 AMCOA member countries—which would be great news for Obianagha and other DOs interested in practicing in Africa.
In an increasingly youthful and globally minded profession, there are many DOs of all backgrounds interested in mission trips, learning exchanges, research abroad and working with global health organizations. They all benefit from broader recognition and practice rights.
In particular, many DOs with personal ties to Africa are interested in taking their medical skills back there in some fashion.
“I definitely want to go back and do some volunteer surgeries,” says Nigeria native Olusegun Onibonoje, DO, who is completing an orthopedic surgery residency in New Jersey.
Currently, practice rights for DOs vary across African nations. Anne-Marie Moukala-Cadet, DO, who practices at a Veterans Administration hospital in New York, was denied when she sought practice rights in Cameroon with the goal of setting up a community clinic in her home village. Fortunately, Village to Village Care, the organization she founded for this purpose, forged a partnership with Cameroon Practice Convention (CPC), a governmental health agency, which issued letters of invitation allowing DOs with the group to provide care in Cameroon in 2016. If DOs had already had practice rights in Cameroon, Dr. Moukala-Cadet would have saved the valuable time and effort she spent negotiating them for herself and her colleagues.
When practice rights must be negotiated country-by-country, clinics and programs providing much-needed services can’t easily expand. Emmanuel Okenye, DO, started a non-profit school for underserved children in Ikorodu, Nigeria, in 2015 while he was a medical student at Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine.
When his colleagues provided basic health care and medications for children at the school, the whole village ended up coming to the school for care. Since the clinic proved valuable to the community, Dr. Okenye wants to extend his idea of locally-guided education and health centers in other countries; expanding practice rights in Africa will make it easier to extend his organization across borders and provide care when he visits.
DOs from Africa say osteopathic medicine would be valued in their home communities—especially in rural areas that lack advanced technology. Benedict Awo, DO, an internal medicine resident in Ohio who hails from Cameroon, noted that osteopathic manipulative treatment can ease pain in the joints and back that is common in communities where walking is a main way of getting around. Another benefit is that OMT “can be performed anywhere, even on the floor,” without advanced equipment.
Osteopathic medicine also shares some similarities with traditional medicine practiced in Africa, where manual treatments are favored over medication. Because osteopathic medicine relies on the idea of treating the whole person, it fits well in traditional, ethnic, and religious healing practices that prioritize similar values.
Dr. Onibonoje, who was practicing as a physical therapist in Canada before he came to the U.S., noticed the “DO” on nametags while working at the Cleveland Clinic, and when he learned about what that meant, he felt osteopathic medicine was a natural extension of his PT skills and knowledge. He appreciates the ability to offer osteopathic manipulation as an alternative or supplement to medications. “Plus, I think there’s something about the DO recruitment persona,” he adds. “We’re DOs at heart.”