HEROES OF HEALTHCARE: Professor Raphiou Diallo

2 February 2021

Our Heroes of Healthcare series features incredible medical professionals spanning the continent of Africa. From Benin’s first Reconstructive Plastic surgeon to an inspiring biomedical engineer technician, this series highlights the outstanding men and women who are changing the healthcare landscape in their countries.

Today, we bring you the story of Professor Raphiou Diallo, a maxillofacial surgeon in Guinea with a one-of-a-kind history with Mercy Ships.

Through our medical capacity building program, Mercy Ships strives to leave a lasting impact in each nation we serve by partnering with medical professionals and strengthening local healthcare systems. Few people bring to life the importance of lasting impact like Professor Raphiou Diallo.

Prof. Diallo is a maxillofacial surgeon from Guinea who has a rich history with Mercy Ships. Our stories first wove together in 1998, when the Africa Mercy spent her first field service in Conakry, Guinea. Here, Prof. Diallo connected with volunteer surgeons onboard and joined our surgical mentoring program. In the decades since, he has become an invaluable part of our work in Guinea and neighbouring Sierra Leone.

“We operate as a team, and it is a great pleasure for me to discover this humanitarian NGO, which has very high human values in respecting the culture of the people for whom they come to help,” said Prof. Diallo.

Seeing a drastic drop in severe cases

One of Prof. Diallo’s early mentors onboard the Africa Mercy was Dr. Gary Parker, surgeon and Chief Medical Officer at the time. Under Dr. Gary’s guidance, Prof. Diallo — along with fellow trainee, Dr. Mamadou Karamba Kaba —specialized in cleft-lip and cleft palate repairs. They went on to teach other Guinean surgeons to do the same.

In 2018 — a full 20 years after Prof. Diallo’s first visit onboard — the Africa Mercy returned to Guinea once more. Early patient selection screenings revealed a staggering testament to Prof. Diallo and Dr. Kaba’s work. In a group of 6,000, we would normally find hundreds of cleft-lip and palate patients seeking help. During this screening, the number of patients with this condition dropped to just six.

This incredible feat illustrates just how drastically cases have dropped in Guinea, thanks in large part to surgeon mentoring onboard the Africa Mercy and Prof. Diallo’s commitment to this surgical specialty long after our ship sailed away.

Training the next generation of dental surgeons

Prof. Diallo’s history of mentorship and training with Mercy Ships has manifested into a desire to provide training for many other Guinean healthcare professionals — specifically, dental surgeons.

In 2018, Prof. Diallo brought this dream to Mercy Ships. He proposed that we work together toward strengthening dental surgeon training in Guinea by fostering a space for education. Together, we planned and partnered with a local institution, the Gamal Abdel Nasser University of Conakry, to renovate the university’s department of dentistry in record time. The renovated buildings now house several classrooms, a dental simulation room, a dental laboratory for training purposes, and a large clinical room. Prof. Diallo also partnered with Mercy Ships to launch dental training programs that empower local students with the skills, education, and experience they need to thrive.

Through the school and clinic, students can put their classroom knowledge to the test by providing hands-on care for patients, some of whom are battling oral diseases or even maxillofacial tumours.

“We had said to ourselves, if we always continue to see tumours of such an advanced level, it is probably because there is also a problem of training. By focusing on dentists, we will be able, in the long term, to diagnose issues at a very early stage and to refer these patients to specialized structures for treatment.”

This hub of dental training is already having transformative results. Thanks to state of the art X-ray equipment in the dental school, Diallo’s team was able to diagnose a young man’s maxillary tumour at an early stage and perform life-changing surgery.

Leaving a lasting impact on Guinea’s population

“I am sure that if the project continues it will enable us to equip the cities of Guinea with excellent dentists, who will not only be able to prevent patients from complications at very advanced stages, but also to diagnose benign and malignant tumours at the very early stages,” said Prof. Diallo. “We are convinced that the [work] of Mercy Ships in initial and continuous training will have a lasting impact on the Guinean population and that of the West African sub region.”

With a rising rate of qualified surgeons in Guinea, patients with tumours, facial cellulitis, noma, and more will be able to receive the lifesaving and life-changing treatment they need. Keep up the fantastic work, Professor Diallo! You’re a Hero of Healthcare not just to us, but to so many patients and medical professionals in Guinea.

Want to get involved in leaving a lasting legacy in Africa? Visit WorldProblemsFirst.org to learn more!