10 Questions with Prof Amer Aziz

Pakistan’s Foremost Orthopaedic Surgeon

Do not wait for the government to do things. Have faith in Allah, gather a good team and work with full devotion, then Allah will provide ways and means to success.

Prof. Amer Aziz, a world renowned orthopaedic surgeon and a doctor of impeccable repute, is one of the few surgeons in Pakistan who not only have made their indelible mark on the medical profession but also have rendered praiseworthy services to the better provision of health facilities to the common man. It was due to his indefatigable campaign that AO Spine International, Switzerland, the largest spine organisation in the world, awarded a full-fledged chapter to Pakistan.

The orthopaedic surgery department at the Ghurki Trust Teaching Hospital ‘the only spinal unit in Pakistan training orthopaedic spinal surgeons’ is being run by Prof Amer. This department has produced 23 FCPS orthopaedic surgeons during last 8 years under the supervision of Prof Amer. Recently, on April 10, 2014, Pakistan’s first spine surgery unit was inaugurated at Ghurki Trust Teaching Hospital with his sheer hard work and unrelenting efforts.

Jahangir’s World Times (JWT) recently had a candid conversation with this pride son of Pakistan. We thank Prof Amer for graciously sparing time out of his busy schedule for us.

Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): What inspired you to establish the state of the art ‘Spine Center’ and what facilities are available here?

Dr Amir Aziz (DAA): Pakistan is one of the greatest countries and it is a blessing of Almighty Allah on our people but we proved thankless as we didn’t follow the promises which were the basis for Pakistan. Health and education haven’t been a priority in Pakistan since its inception. Regrettably, the rich go abroad on government’s expense for treatment while the poor are left in the lurch. When I returned to Pakistan in 1987, I was astonished to see that no facility for spine surgery is available here. Being one of the very few Pakistanis having skill in the spinal surgery, I vowed to serve my people and my country, so, I established this centre.

We are very fortunate to have a wonderful team here and our team leader is Mr Mohsin Ghurki. I would say he is gift of God for us because he never said no to any proposal we put forth. Now, by the grace of Almighty, we have the most modern operating facilities insomuch as those of Agha Khan Hospital are no match to us. Our CSSD that is sterilization department is unique in the country as it is the only centre which trains spine surgeons. Here, we are performing all sorts of spine surgeries. In near future, we have plans to raise enough funds to treat every poor patient.

JWT: What kind of spinal problems are found in Pakistan and what is the state of affairs regarding treatment facilities in the public sector?

DAA: As regard the spinal treatment facilities, those are not satisfactory even in the private sector; let alone its public counterpart. Unfortunately, majority of spinal diseases affect the poor. For instance, spinal tuberculosis, the most common spinal ailment in Pakistan, is hardly affordable to most people. Moreover, there is no facility to save people from spinal injuries in case someone falls from a motorbike or meets an accident in a recreational park like Jallo Water Park. Whereas in public sector, the only facility for spinal treatment is available at General Hospital Lahore but again the neglect by those at the helm aggravates the situation. TB, scoliosis, crooked spine, prolepses, tumours and injuries are some other common spinal problems and by the grace of Allah, we are dealing with them to our best.

JWT: How dangerous is the spinal tuberculosis and what is its ratio in different age groups?

DAA: Spinal tuberculosis affects bones of the spine and patient becomes paralyzed. If it attacks the neck area, then all four limbs can become paralytic whereas in case of attack on the area below neck, only the lower limbs become crippled. We deal hundreds of patients affected by this disease every year. Alhamdolilah a patient who comes to us leaves walking on his own feet.

Moreover, it affects all age groups especially the teens. Back pain back infections, back cancer and back injuries are the most common ailments in Pakistan and the whole world.

JWT: What about its ratio among males and females?

DAA: Actually, all spinal problems, except scoliosis that is more common in females, afeect males and females equally. Young girls especially become a victim of it. But unfortunately, many people come late to us because most doctors cannot deal with this illness. Such docs tell people to wait till age of 19 but by that time the deformity may go beyond cure.

JWT: What are its symptoms? And when a person having such symptoms should essentially contact the doctor?

DAA: If there are some mal-alignments or if hunchback or crookedness is felt, you must go to the concerned doctor immediately. Here, I would like to stress the importance of school training programmes in this regard because that is the time when we can combat the scoliosis effectively.

JWT: If someone is suffering from this problem, should he contact a neurosurgeon or go to an orthopaedic surgeon? 

DAA: In fact, spinal problems can be dealt with by a neurosurgeon as well as an orthopaedic surgeon. Davos based AO Spine, world’s biggest representative organization of the spinal surgeons has 7000 members; among them 5000 are orthopaedic surgeons. But in Pakistan, the neurosurgeons cannot bear an orthopaedist doing spine surgery. Nevertheless, I think we should serve patients together.

JWT: How such health facilities can be provided to the populace at the district or tehsil level?

DAA: Ironically, no health planning is there in this country. We spend only 1% of our GDP on health while it should be 6% at the minimum. But our rulers and policymakers do not care about the common man. I feel that District Head Quarter (DHQs) and THQs have to be upgraded either by mobile health units or by sending people to visit these places. Physiotherapy is a significant part of any orthopaedic department and it must be provided at the Thesil level.

JWT: Do you see it as the incapacity or negligence on part of the government that despite being the provincial capital, Lahore lacks a proper facility for spinal treatment?

DAA: I won’t call it negligence rather it’s a case of low priority. Bureaucracy and politicians cannot run health department and it has to be handed over to professionals like doctors. Mostly, the excuse given is that doctors aren’t good administrators. But, may I question that what abilities of good administrators have the politicians and the bureaucrats shown since 1947. They are letting the country down. Give us health and give us two years then you will see the difference.

JWT: What can be the ideal health vision for Pakistan?

DAA:  Health should be the top priority; equal and adequate health facilities should be made available to all citizens without any discrimination and no VIP culture should be there. Private sector must be encouraged because it’s providing 70% health facilities in the country. On the contrary, the government banned house jobs for the graduates of private colleges in the government hospitals. Either government should close private medical colleges or let them compete.

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