Lippin: Why we’re offering free surgery to the poor

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Lippin being interviewed by Justina Okpanku.

Dr. Yitzhak Lippin is definitely one surgeon with an impressive resume. His experience in the medical profession spans over 30 years. He has worked as an aesthetic surgery fellow at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.A; he was also a microsurgery fellow at Canniesburn Hospital, Glasgow, Scotland, and he is responsible for all the microsurgery reconstructive surgery services in Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, where his main research interest is in skin gene therapy. At present, he runs a private practice in aesthetic surgery at the Center for Women’s Health in Ramat Aviv, Israel.
Interestingly, Lippin is one of the Israeli doctors under the aegis of Professionals for Humanity (PROFOH) that visited Lagos, Nigeria recently for their medical mission, treating citizens free of charge. The patients who were living with their health problems because they could not afford to pay medical bills benefitted from their expertise.
PROFOH is said to have brought succor to thousands in countries around the world including Nigeria, Ghana, Benin Republic, Liberia, Egypt, Kenya, Nepal, Trinidad & Tobago, and Mexico, through medical missions, manpower development, equipment donation, education support, and provision of safe drinking water. The mission is meant to benefit the under-privileged and vulnerable people who are burdened by general medical and surgical ailments but cannot afford the high cost of health care.
The team of medical experts, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists and clinical psychologists, was led by G.B. Ghanaador, a Professor of Surgery at the University of Texas, United States of America and Chairman, PROFOH Board.
The visiting medical personnel rendered their week-long free service alongside their Nigerian counterparts at Somolu General Hospital and Onikan General Hospital, Lagos between February 19 and February 26, 2019. Before departing Lagos for Tel Aviv, Israel, Lippin spoke with JUSTINA OKPANKU on their effort, which he said is imperative in keeping with PROFOH’s philosophy of ‘We care;’ Nigeria’s medical practice among other global health issues.
A LOT of Nigerian patients are taking advantage of India’s medical breakthrough. What are your thoughts on cost-competitiveness?
Thailand and India are not as expensive as the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Certain level of medicine in some countries is not safe. I don’t want to mention names. Jordan has very good doctors. I highly appreciate them. Israel is very good. We are advancing in technology, new laser and all the medical breakthroughs. Israel is successful in innovations, inventions and all that.
Critics say high cost of medical treatment has not helped Israel in the medical tourism segment.
I cannot talk about cost. Many people come from Russia to Israel. We give best treatment but I don’t know how much it will cost. I know cost of living is very high in Israel. The exchange rate is 3.6 shekel for one dollar. I come from a country where everyone has national health insurance.
One has to appreciate PROFOH for facilitating this mission to enable Nigerians receive treatment free of charge. We understand it was supported by a politician, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-olu. How was it?
It’s my first time in Nigeria. I am very glad that I came. We had a great experience. This small woman here (pointing to Dr. Katya Chapchay, one of his colleagues) has four children. We are working together in harmony. We are here for medical mission. People with different kind of ailments came. The main thing is, the people cannot afford to pay. They are neglected and are living with their problems.
We worked from nine in the morning till 6 O’ Clock in the evening for the number of days we are in Nigeria. I understand its elections period. The first day at Somolu hospital was crowded but we were able to do 7 to 8 operations a day. The hospital was crowded with sick people, patients with different ailments, with growth all over their body. Some of them waited patiently to be examined. We worked mainly with children; we did a variety of surgery: skin graft, hernia goitre; we did lasectomy for women, taking off breasts because of big tumour and breast biospy. For the children, we did cleft palate, nasal reconstruction. There were a lot of ailments like defects of the abdomen and genital malfunction in young girls. There was also a child with a big tumour on the forehead, another with tumour in the stomach.

What is Cleft palate?
I’ll tell you about one child. She is three-months old and was abandoned by the parents. The mother wanted to kill her. She has cleft palate. The baby was brought in from the orphanage in a Lagos suburb and she was very malnourished and trying to survive. We have a lot of hope she will survive. This child will not be able to speak properly because of the cleft palate which widens the victims’ mouth. Cleft palate is not a genetic thing. It’s an environment, lack of folic acid. It’s also in families.
Can Cleft palate be detected early?
Yes. It can be detected very early using the ultrasound. In western world cleft palate is dropping.
You were talking about the difficult hospital environment
The hospital (Somolu General Hospital, Lagos) is in a difficult situation. The environment here is very different from ours. I was very impressed with the staff; they were willing to help. They gave us everything. So the hospitals (the one in Somolu and Onikan) are basically equipped but the staff are doing marvelous work. The hospital is very basically equipped but I think a lot of emphasis should be put in educating and also developing the surgical environment where we can do safe operations. Equipment is also important.
We came with a lot of disposable equipment and we are going to leave them here. We came for one week and we do what we can. If we can help one child or man or woman, it will be for us a great achievement.
Who is Yitzhak Lippin?
I told you I am a specialist. I am 62. I like to work with my hand. I am very manual. I studied in school and I like Chemistry and Physics. I like to write and I like to draw. When I finished in the army and was trying to decide what to do, I wanted to study law. I was in a medical school; I am not coming from a family of doctors. Actually, I am coming from a very poor family. My parents married at a very young age; my mother is from an Arabic family, my father was born in Israel. They met each other in Israel and they married at a very young age and I was their firstborn.
I worked very hard. I was working at the very young age, wake up at four in the morning and go to farm and my two other brothers also. My first brother is an engineer and the other is a businessman. My parents are more than 85 years now. When I finished in the Israeli army at the age of 21 (you must be in the army, be you man or woman), I wanted to go to a law school, I wanted to study Law. But I gained admission to study medicine. I finished medical school No. 1 in my class, even though I was the last to be registered.
finished and became a doctor in 1986, at age 30. After seven years of general surgery, I went to England for further studies. I later went to the U.S.A to study the same surgery. I do private surgery. I am married with three children, the eldest is 32 and he is a doctor while the youngest is a social worker. My wife is a psychologist, a real fighter for immigrants and many organisations. I do all variety of surgery, abdomen, throat and so on. I speak English, Arabic and Hebrew.
Are you planning a follow- up visit?
Nigerian doctors and nurses are very good. There are a lot of efforts on their part. Part of the mission is a follow-up. We promised there will be a follow-up; we left a precise instruction with the local people. We told them what to do. The patients will stay at the hospital after the surgery. (Frowning) But the surgical environment is not conducive and there are no proper recovery rooms. Patients bring in their own food, it’s a very difficult situation. The air conditioners are not working, so the doctor is sweating and the patient is also sweating. There is a lot of local spirit and knowledge; the staff can do better even though they are doing their best. They themselves have difficult situation. And of course equipment is important.
Now we know when we are coming we will bring the proper equipment. I think the people in charge of everything should give us a picture. We need detailed information, so we know what to expect and the equipment to bring. Health and education are very important. They should train women, the women work very hard, very dedicated.
When do you hope to come back?
April? I don’t know. PROFOH makes the decision. For us to come, they pay for our flights and accommodation. We are volunteers. We didn’t come for pleasure but difficult work; we came to see the local people, and we came with a lot of respect. We think human being is human everywhere. But if they live in a difficult condition, they struggle to survive. One of the messages is ‘We care.’ We know we cannot solve all the problems.
Courtesy: The Nation, Nigeria

Dr. Lippin (left) and Essam Omar at the theatre in Somolu General Hospital, Lagos, recently.

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