Alumni form bond, share passion for
global growth of rehabilitation medicine
Andrew Haig, MD ’83, and Asare Christian, MD ’09, together are changing the rehabilitation medicine
landscape in Africa.
Though they graduated from the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) decades apart, Andrew Haig, MD ’83, and Asare Christian, MD ’09, have a kindred interest in bringing physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) care to the developing world. Their unique alumni collaboration is laying the groundwork for sustainable rehabilitation medicine in Dr. Christian’s native Ghana and offers a model for global change.
Nearly 1 billion people are living with disability, with greater prevalence in low-resource countries. Many experience significant challenges in access to education, health care and employment. A 2011 study conducted by Drs. Christian and Haig and published in the Pan African Medical Journal found that only 17 percent of patients in a major trauma center in Ghana received any form of rehabilitation therapy, despite all of them qualifying for admission to an acute rehabilitation unit by U.S. standards.
“The need for rehabilitation medicine is intuitive and paramount,” Dr. Christian said.
Dr. Haig’s recognition of this need globally had inspired him in 2005 to create the International Rehabilitation Forum (IRF). The forum functions as a platform for building rehabilitation programs where none exist. Dr. Christian is a fellow of the IRF and is dedicated to bringing his expertise in PM&R back to Ghana, where he lived in his youth and saw first-hand the impact of limited medical resources and inadequate infrastructure.
He developed a passion for public health, which led him to pursue a career in medicine. He was drawn to PM&R after a musculoskeletal rotation in his third year of school at MCW. The professionalism of the PM&R department and its multidisciplinary approach to care made an indelible impression on him.
My principal goal for
pursuing PM&R is to make this fundamental health service available to Ghana and Sub-Saharan Africa,
where the need is greatest,”
- Asare Christian, MD
“The comprehensive team approach, focusing on what is important to patients, irrespective of organ system pathology, resonates with me. During a residency interview at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dr. Karen Kowalske, professor and chair of PM&R, recommended I look up Dr. Haig’s work,” he said. “I contacted Dr. Haig, and we were able to devise the first research project to study rehabilitation care of trauma patients in a tertiary hospital in Ghana.”
This led to Dr. Haig’s mentorship and an active collaboration to establish a high-performance rehabilitation facility in Kumasi, Ghana, in conjunction with the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the country. The MCW alumni are now working together to find funding and recruit volunteer physicians, facilitating eventual efforts by Dr. Christian and peers to train the first group of legitimate rehabilitation medicine physicians in West Africa, Dr. Haig said.
“My principal goal for pursuing PM&R is to make this fundamental health service available to Ghana and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the need is greatest,” Dr. Christian said.
Asare Christian, MD ’09, visits with a patient in Ghana, where he hopes to establish a physical medicine and rehabilitation presence.
After MCW, Dr. Christian’s ambitions led him to a PM&R residency at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he was an Armstrong Institute Resident Scholar at the school’s Institute of Patient Safety and Quality. He completed his residency in 2013 and was accepted into the Harvard School of Public Health. As a Mongan Commonwealth Fund Fellow at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Christian earned his master of public health degree on May 29. Next, he plans to seek an academic position combining clinical work, policy and population management.
As part of his long-term goals in Ghana, he will assume a leadership role with the Ghana Medical Rehabilitation Group, a collaborative program established by Dr. Haig at the University of Michigan, where the latter is Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. In this capacity, Dr. Christian will be responsible for organizing and setting up the rehabilitation center in Kumasi.
“In our first phone call, Asare told me he wanted to be the first PM&R doctor in Ghana,” Dr. Haig said. “I believed him completely and still do. I think Ghana is very lucky to have a guy with his world class education, brains and personal commitment to lead the charge there.”
Alumni form bond, share passion for global growth of rehabilitation medicine
There is a personal aspect to Asare Christian’s endeavors to promote physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) in the developing world. While Dr. Christian (MD ’09) was finishing medical school at MCW, his grandmother was suffering from brain trauma due to falls. Much of the resulting speech, cognitive, and movement impairments could have been minimized if rehabilitation had been provided. This greatly affected not only his grandmother and her family, but also the community she lived in.
“She was an advocate for her village, she provided housing and paid tuition for kids to attend school, volunteered at her church and engaged in various trades,” said Dr. Christian. “The economic implications of her disability cannot be afforded by a country with limited resources. The father of modern rehabilitation, Howard Rusk, used to say ‘a dollar spent on rehab, yields ten back to society.’ This is not too far from reality.”
Harvard’s School of Public Health, where Dr. Christian earned his master of public health in May 2014, also profiled his impressive crusade to bring PM&R to Ghana.
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