“Eritrea is far ahead in the healthcare, particularly in decreasing child and maternal mortality” Dr. Lisa Masterson
Dr. Lisa Masterson is obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) specialist. She works as obstetrician and gynecologist at Los Angeles Cedar Sinai Medical Center. She is also co-host of the popular TV series program “The Doctors”. Since 2000, including that of this year’s, Dr. Masterson has visited Eritrea for the 7th time. What motivates her for visiting Eritrea for several times, how she sees the country’s healthcare developments and what would be her future plans? Shabait has conducted a brief interview with this prominent OB-GYN specialist who also melds media and medicine together. Excerpts follow:
Last Saturday, the Orrota School of post graduates has graduated OB-GYN specialists, how do you assess the developments?
It is a great development. The residence, the faculty, the administrators and everybody associated with the Ministry of Health really worked hard to get to that point. They are (the graduating class) a very strong group, very brave and very intelligent. They are really going to be leaders in different areas they are going to be placed. They have been taught how to answers pathology results quicker and how to use ultra sounds. They have been taught how to answer every single question. It is quite impressive and the result is already bright. Everything is going to be addressed in time with this graduating class. It is just a model of what to come next.
Do you really think the new graduates are competent to cope up with the fast changing medical breakthroughs?
They are more than competent. This is the bright group. I trained one of the top OB-GYN residency programs in the country. I am very impressed with them. They are on the top of what is not only just with basic knowledge but with what is going on outside of Eritrea and in the world. The administration and the faculty are very aware of bringing bright mind here to teach their doctors. So, Eritrea is not graduating people with an old set of knowledge skill. They are in the forefront of those knowledge skills. We are trying to reach out to different avenues to try to bring things to Eritrea. We are trying to bring the ability and equipment to Eritrea.
As you are highly concerned about maternal and child healthcare, what are your observations about Eritrea with regard to this issue? Do you think Eritrea would achieve the UN millennium development goals?
Eritrea is definitely on the right track towards achieving the UN millennium development goals, and it absolutely will. The hope is actually to go beyond. We are starting with the new postgraduate medical education graduates. They are going to make a huge difference in decreasing maternal mortality. In doing so, the specialized care that is yet to be available in other places—thanks to the ability of these graduates to teach others—will have a ripple effect all the way down the line. So, yes they are on track. I have been very amazed and proud; and, I think very highly of the Government in the effort to tackling this country’s health challenges by means of the medical school. Education and educating people is where it starts. At the end day, the realization is that mothers and children are the focal point of the society. Once you eradicate that, you can really alleviate a country. Eritrea’s impressive achievement within the set short timeline stems from the realization that women and children be given primacy. When Salih Meki [former Minister of health] told me a clear-cut mission to decreasing maternal mortality in this country with a very quick timeline, I really thought it was unfeasible. But with the determination of administrators and everyone else who put all the work on to it, they are increasingly making it realistic.
You have been visiting Eritrea for a number of times, and particularly at times of graduation events? What makes you come on such occasions?
I love the people. I have also been inspired with the same goal for the country. The goal they have set for themselves for the OB-GYN residency program. I worked very hard for that goal and seeing that actually happen with the hard work of people like Mr. Salih Meki and other members of the Ministry of Health, also putting in my hard work and time, it is just really inspiring. I am again very proud of what we have all accomplished. That is what keeps me come and I learned a lot from the residents, one could always learn from everyone around. It is always a wonderful experience to deal with this graduating class. That is why I came this time though it is hard to get away from my practice and my television show. With this class we are seeing the dream that started five years ago finally blossoming; it is like a harvest. We have been harvesting for all these years. It is blooming; and people will get helped and cured of diseases.
Comparing your earliest observations with that of later developments, do you think Eritrea is on the right track or is still lagging behind in healthcare services?
I think Eritrea is on the right track. If it stays on this track, it is going to surpass all the other African countries. I am very proud and amazed of the determination. It took a lot of determination and a lot of hard work to get to this point within years in post graduate medical education programs in different specialties, especially in OB-GYN which has huge ability to decrease the maternal and infant mortality. As far as the community and the country are thriving there would be no huge ramification. So, Eritrea is on the right track and my goal is to see it continue that way. The sky is the limit.
Medical schools within the country have continued to train healthcare specialists at varied levels, how do you evaluate the standards?
That is why we and the Hammer Forum and other external examiners come in. To make sure that this curriculum of this program matches if not exceeds the standards. When I looked at the curriculum; I looked at it based on the US OB-GYN graduates. We have looked at all the standards of the curriculum and things that has to be set and used. There are a lot people who came together to work on making sure that these standards were at if not above the standards in other countries.
You have been working in very advanced medical centers, what experiences could one learn from the experiences in the developing world and vice-versa?
What we can learn from here is just again the love of the people and their commitment, the quality of care that is just great, and the money saving techniques with which those residents can do a lot with one piece of switcher. But, I think it is great to be able to have more of communication with the world outside Eritrea through different communication avenues that would be beneficial. We really want to bring that to Eritrea. The advancement of technology is happening so fast even in the US. We have, for instance, a hand held ultra sound in the US. I have seen Eritrea go from essentially no ultra sound to ultra sound. That is a huge development. I have gone to other countries where main hospitals do not have ultra sounds. The radiologists do not have ultra sounds. So, Eritrea is making great strides. But, I think global communication is something that needs to happen here.
Do you think the developments that have been achieved in training healthcare professionals would enable the Eritrean society maintain a healthy lifestyle?
Yes, that is the idea. We are trying to focus on saving lives of mothers and other healthcare issues. Once that is established then there is another level of quality of care that you can address. That is the quality of life where people feel good about themselves. They can just start focusing on staying alive and quality of life. That is why I say in eight years Eritrea will be a different place. Because, the focus will shift and we will have a new mind set in the country.
What would be your future plan in the country?
To maintain this program for it is really the future of the country. This will be a different Eritrea in eight to ten years from now. It is just the beginning with only six OB-GYN specialists in the country and we have five more, and there will be more and more and it will just grow exponentially. Once you start taking care of families, mothers and children you will see communities just flourish and Eritrea is going to be a better country.