Serendipity, Benevolence, Acorns And Oaks: Enabling Improved Care Of PwP In Sub-Saharan Africa

Serendipity. That’s how I ended up, first in Neurology, and then in the field of Parkinson disease and Movement Disorders. I entered the internal medicine residency training program in the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Lagos, Nigeria, intent on becoming a cardiologist. Two years later, I found myself in Neurology, ordered there without much of a choice because of a lack of senior residents in that forsaken unit. Another two years went by, and I was faced with writing a proposal for a dissertation that was a mandatory requirement for the final fellowship examination. Again, for what seemed like a lack of a choice on account of limited technology to delve into research on disorders that required imaging for diagnosis, I took up a fleeting suggestion by one of my consultants to conduct research in Parkinson disease. At this time, it was scarcely diagnosed and barely treated. Fast forward 19 years later, and I would not give up this subspecialty of movement disorders for any other! What was a neglected and virtually non-existent area of neurology has gradually become a much sought after area of specialization in sub-Saharan Africa, with a growing number of neurologists, other physicians, nurses, physiotherapists and speech therapists expressing an interest in gaining expertise in the management of Parkinson disease. Over these two decades, educational training opportunities at conferences, benevolent scholarship opportunities from institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom, friendships and social connections, and the commitment of associations such as the World Parkinson Coalition and the International Parkinson Disease and Movement Disorder Society have ensured a sustainable expansion of multidisciplinary expertise in Parkinson disease care in sub Saharan Africa. The specialty is gaining a voice, and together, with the support of our global community, I believe we can alleviate the burden of the peculiar challenges of limited access to medications and other therapies. Ultimately, our hope is that these efforts will continue to sustainably benefit persons with Parkinson disease and those who care for them in Africa. The fulfilment comes in seeing a smile restored, a voice become louder, and slow steps become a dance. If you’ve ever wondered why it’s important to commit resources to help develop healthcare in underserved areas and developing countries, look at the big picture. A little can really go a long way. You cannot count the number of apples in an apple seed until you plant it. So plant good seed on good ground, and watch your acorns become mighty oak trees. 


Njideka U. Okubadejo, MBCHB, FMCP spoke at the WPC 2016 Leadership Forum. She is currently a Professor & Consultant Neurologist at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Lagos University Teaching Hospital

Ideas and opinions expressed in this post reflect that of the authors solely. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of the World Parkinson Coalition®