This article is part of a regular Neuro Gist series focusing on individuals and organisations working to combat neurological disorders and enhance brain health in Nigeria.
WHY is there a Nigeria Florida neuroscience partnership?
Former President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was once asked by a high school student, “who is our enemy?” He led a discussion with the students, who concluded, “our enemy is poverty.” This experience inspired him to publish Ignited Minds in 2002, a book to encourage the youth of his country to work to develop the potential of the nation. This expression fittingly describes an advocacy movement that has been growing in the neuroscience and clinical neurology communities world-wide, which has a leading partnership between the Nigerian Society for Neurological Science and the Florida Society of Neurology.
How did these unlikely bedfellows ever get together, you ask and why?
Here is the story. In 2003, the late Donald Palatucci MD inspired UCB Pharmaceuticals to sponsor a training programme with the American Academy of Neurology that would teach neurologists how to advocate for the needs of their patients and for the development of neurological services and neurological research to the agencies and policy makers who control funding.
This ignited a tremendous movement for advocacy within the neurological community in the U.S and in other countries. In 2006, World Federation of Neurology President, Johan Aarli initiated.
The Africa Project after the 2004 WHO Atlas of Country Resources for Neurological Disorders revealed how few neurologists there were in Africa to provide the much-needed care.
In turn, this ignited other organisations to work with WFN in partnership with the Pan African Association of Neurological Societies (PAANS) to further the goals of PAANS. The World Neurology Foundation under the leadership of Dr. Michael Finkel (photograph) responded to a request for basic examination equipment for individual neurologist, igniting a realisation that an individual neurologist in a “developed” country could make a donation that would directly help a colleague to perform the essential examination of the nervous system. Overtool kits for neurologists have been donated to colleagues in Africa thus far.
By 2009, the Advocacy movement had grown within U.S neurology societies, especially within the Florida Society of Neurology, which initiated the Florida Neuroalliance to advocate within Florida and an Outreach Committee to work with colleagues outside the U.S.
Florida and Nigeria have the highest number of Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum trained neurologists, so it was natural for Florida neurologists to respond to our Nigerian colleagues’ requests for assistance in developing services in Nigeria. Thus was born the Nigeria Florida Neuroscience Partnership, an unincorporated group of like-minded, patient centered neurological practitioners, working with no budget and no staff, with the sole purpose to inspire individuals and organisations to give time and financial support that will speed the development of Nigeria as a center of neurological care, neuroscience innovation and clinical teaching in western, central and eastern Africa.
Because both The Nigerian Society for Neurological Sciences (NSNS) and FSN are small organisations, decisions can be made without endless committees and while the numbers of neurologists per population differ strikingly, both Nigeria and Florida have six training programmes for clinical neurology, as well as, several active chapters of the Society for Neuroscience, which promotes the development of basic research in the working of the nervous system.
In turn, this leads to clinical developments and services that can be available and affordable for the general population.
What has the Nigeria Florida Neuroscience Partnership accomplished?
The inaugural meeting was held in Lagos at the National Sickle Cell Centre in November 2010, with speakers from Florida and Nigeria coming together with over 200 Nigerian neurologists, neurosurgeons, rehabilitation specialists, psychiatrists, psychologists, medical students, social workers and neurological nurses.
It has a shoe-string budget, with funding raised both in Florida and Nigeria. All speakers donated their time, and the Floridians provided their own airfare and meal expenses. Some visas and funding were last minute achievements!
Lectures focused on common neurological problems in Nigeria that result from non-communicable diseases, notably stroke, epilepsy, headache, neurosurgical trauma and spine diseases, as well as the need for neurological rehabilitation services. There was an advocacy training session for all attendees.
The Nigerian chapters of the Society for Neuroscience met together and discussed attainable goals. Patients with several representative diseases came to participate in discussions about their illnesses. It was thought to be the largest meeting of its type among the neuroscience community of Nigeria, who were ignited by the realisation of what they can accomplish together.
What projects are planned or are already underway?
There were several major points of consensus at the 2010 meeting.
First, the basic and clinical neurosciences need to develop in tandem to support and sustain the attractiveness of the key educational programs in the nation.
Second, the various specialties within the basic and clinical neurosciences need to work together under the grand tent of the NSNS, rather than splitting into small fiefdoms that can become driven by personality rather than by mission.
Third, there is a need for a Nigerian Neuroalliance of patients, families, caregivers and donors that will also work within the grand tent of the NSNS.
Fourth, there had to be focus on education about the nature of key diseases, how to prevent them, and how to treat them when they occur. Stroke, epilepsy, headache, and neurological trauma are key areas about which you will hear in subsequent articles in this series.
Building from the enthusiasm of the inaugural meeting, NFNP members have worked on several projects. These include finding funding sources to study the regional needs for diagnostic imaging and electrodiagnostics studies in Nigeria, as well as, funding to sustain the Blossom Neurorehabilitation Centre in Ibadan, which must purchase its building by December 2012 or close.
NSNS members expanded publication of articles in international journals, and six posters were presented at the 2011 American Academy of Neurology meeting. While unfortunate events in August caused the October meeting in Abuja to be deferred, the NFNP has arranged approximately 10 clinical observerships in Florida for 2012 and the second meeting will take place in Nigeria when the time is right. The agenda is inspiring.
Do I have to be a medical person or an influential person to help the partnership?
If this presentation has ignited your mind to participate with time, money, technical support to develop social media, or the ability to make key introductions to those who can further the mission, let yourself be heard. We have to Friendraise if we are to Fundraise.
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