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Virtual surgery the COVID way

Published:  05 February 2021

Using Google Translator, his laptop and mobile phone, Townsville University Hospital’s director of urogynaecology Professor Ajay Rane is virtually guiding surgeries to help women in some of the world’s poorest and most troubled nations through COVID-19.

When the pandemic put paid to all travel and teaching last year, Professor Rane, also an academic, humanitarian and founder of the charity Flourishing Women, knew he had to find a different way of helping women with fistula – the abnormal opening between the vagina and the bladder or rectum triggering a loss of urine and faecal control – caused by prolonged, obstructed labour.

“When COVID-19 stopped all our travel, I knew I had to somehow use technology like everyone else was doing to keep our work going,” he said.

Since last March, Professor Rane has delivered more than 100 webinars to doctors and nurses across the globe and guided surgeons with mobile phones in operating rooms in India, Kenya and the Congo.

“COVID really pulled the rug out from under us,” he said.

“The border closures were devastating for so many women whose only hope was from international surgeons who could no longer enter their countries.”

Undeterred Professor Rane set up webinars and virtual surgery using the technology at his disposal.

“More often than not it was two or three in the morning, but the only other option was to see 20 years of work supporting women who suffer catastrophic childbirth injury slip away.”

Professor Rane has spent two decades teaching surgeons in countries including India, Nepal, Pakistan, sub-Saharan Africa, the United Arab Emirates and the Democratic Republic of Congo to perform fistula repair on local women.

Professor Rane said that like most people, COVID had changed his mindset.

“While I’m super keen to be back in operating theatres in Uganda and India, I’m embracing the new new,” he said.

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