The Encephalitis Society is adding its support to a new scheme which will help to train neurologists in Zambia.

The country, in south-central Africa, has a population of 16 million people and until recently did not have a single locally-trained, full-time neurologist.

This is despite there being a huge need for every aspect of neurology.

(Read a Q&A with trainee Stanley Zimba and Nfwama Kawatu-Mulenga)

But hopes are high that a corner is being turned with the launch of The Neurology Training Program in October 2018.

The multi-institutional international effort - almost 13 years in the making - is being spearheaded by, among others, Dr Omar Siddiqi, an assistant professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and Dr Deanna Saylor, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore.

Dr Siddiqi’s first visit to Zambia came in 2005 during his residency and such was the lasting impression of his experiences that he moved to Lusaka in 2010 to conduct research and see patients in his free time.

This disease burden was really overwhelming,” he told Neurology Today. “I could see patients 24 hours a day and still not come close to addressing the disease burden. It was like a drop in the ocean.”

Health problems in Zambia include blood pressure and very high rates of hemorrhagic stroke, due in part to the salt heavy diets of the population.

Then there are complications of HIV, such as encephalitis and meningitis, as well as diseases related to malnutrition, cerebral malaria, epilepsy, and other conditions that have to do with the limited resources of the country.

Dr Siddiqi and his colleagues understood that the “game changer” to combat this would be for Zambia to have a local neurology training program to ensure a steady stream of Zambian neurologists who would then continue to train future generations.

The pieces began to come together in 2015 when Dr Siddiqi, Dr Saylor and their colleagues began fundraising efforts.

Among those approached was the Encephalitis Society which is no stranger to the need for neurology support in Zambia, having supported the NeuroAccess project in 2013 and 2016.

NeuroAccess, led by Dr Benedict Michael, Trustee and member of our Scientific Advisory Panel, along with Dr Sam Nightingale, set out to improve the care of patients with encephalitis and other neurological problems by improving education in clinical neurology.

Dr Ava Easton, Chief Executive of the Encephalitis Society, said:

We have become very familiar with the need for neurologists in Zambia and were very impressed by the sustainable plans for developing critical neurology care for patients through the Neurology Training Program. We are delighted to be involved in the project and look forward to its work and the progression of the first trainees on to the program. This is a project which we believe will have such a positive impact on the health of people in the country today, tomorrow and in the generations to come.

The training program officially began on October 1, 2019, with three adult neurology trainees and two paediatric neurology trainees.