Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 August 2019

Meet the Dubai surgeon treating the burn victims of Africa

A spate of terrible fires that tore through poor neighbourhoods in Madagascar have left many needing treatment

Dr Hanieh Erdmann has used her skills to treat children with burns. Courtesy: Hanieh Erdmann
Dr Hanieh Erdmann has used her skills to treat children with burns. Courtesy: Hanieh Erdmann

A surgeon from Dubai is at the forefront of a humanitarian mission to perform free surgery on burn victims in Madagascar.

Dr Hanieh Erdmann, 49, has travelled twice a year to the island nation off the coast of Africa for the past decade, where she also helped train doctors cope with the increasing number of children who require urgent medical treatment.

Madagascar has seen a spate of out-of-control residential blazes, often in districts where wooden shacks and other basic accommodation are packed together in poor neighbourhoods.

One blaze in September 2016 killed eight people and burned 50 homes to the ground in the capital Antananarivo. Another in July of the same year left 38 dead, including 16 children. There were more than 20 major blazes that year.

The German medic performs skin grafts to repair the damage caused by fire and make disfiguring injuries less apparent.

To date, the project in Madagascar has helped around 2,000 members of the community.

Dr Hanieh Erdmann performs surgery on a patient in Madagascar.Picture supplied by Dr Hanieh Erdmann.
Dr Hanieh Erdmann performs surgery on a patient in Madagascar.Picture supplied by Dr Hanieh Erdmann.

Dr Erdmann is a member of the newly-formed Soroptimists International Club in Dubai, a women’s networking group that encourages skilled professionals to volunteer and aims to improve the lives of women across the world.

“There are a lot of children suffering from body malformation caused by burns in Madagascar," said Dr Erdmann, 49, who is one of the first members of the Soroptimists in the Middle East.

“I will be travelling again to Madagascar in February or March next year to perform surgery on burn victims and people born with cleft lips, and I will be teaming up with other surgeons to perform free operations on patients, most of whom are children.

“We are educating the doctors over there and performing the surgeries with them."

In addition to burn victims, Dr Erdmann, who specialises in dermatology and has been working at Dubai’s Clinica Joelle in Jumeirah since 2011, she said that recently the island has faced an increased number of children born with clubbed feet.

The condition, which causes one or both feet to be turned inwards, would be treatable in developed countries but the island's poor medical infrastructure mean many are left suffering.

“We were not prepared for the amount of children who have clubbed feet there,” she said. The cause is unknown but that many experts believe it is genetic.

“It is a really complicated procedure with clubbed feet that requires patients to receive treatment every three weeks.

“The main problem we face is that the families are coming from far away to receive treatment. They have to walk up to 400 km because they have no other form of transport and many people give up because of the distances involved.”

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - November 28, 2018: Sareh Ameri, Soroptimist International Ð a womenÕs networking and rights group is launching in the UAE for the first time. Wednesday the 28th of November 2018 in Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Sareh Ameri encourages people to volunteer in any way they can. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The Soroptimists International Club launched in Dubai in July of this year, making it the first chapter of the women’s networking group in the entire Middle East.

The networking group has more than 75,000 members in 122 countries across the world but there was no branch in this region until now.

The Dubai group’s founder Sareh Ameri, 40, said one of the group’s core goals was to use their members’ expertise to raise awareness of humanitarian projects across the world, like Dr Erdmann's.

The Dubai chapter already counts surgeons, journalists, interior designers and architects among its membership.

She said the group would also be supporting a project in the Philippines, later in 2019, providing water and sanitation to the local communities.

“Girls who reach puberty there often have to miss school because there is no access to basic toilet and water facilities, there is so much we take for granted in this part of the world,” said the entrepreneur, originally from Iran.

“Because we are so lucky in this part of the world it is important that we give back to those from other parts that are not so fortunate.

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“That is why we must come together here to use our network and skills to make a positive impact of the lives of women and young girls in other places who need our help.”

While the Soroptimists mission was to help women and girls, their aid work often helps men and boys too in communities.

Ms Ameri said that the Soroptimists would open doors for women across the region that had remained closed until now.

“We wanted to help build a bridge for the women in this region to be able to liaise with women from all over the world,” she said.

“We already have women from 14 different nationalities who are members here so it will open a lot of doors for them especially from a cultural aspect.”

Updated: December 12, 2018 08:08 AM

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