"A doctor's work should be vocational above all else. That's my understanding of my profession," says César Ramírez Plaza, a surgeon from Malaga who, for the third time in less than a year, has led a humanitarian mission in Africa to operate on patients there without resources.
Dr Ramírez, who is the head of the general and digestive surgery department at the Quirónsalud hospitals in Malaga and Marbella, has just returned from Liberia, where from 28 January to 2 February more than 250 patients underwent surgery.
If it had not been for the humanitarian team led by Ramírez, they would not have been able to have the operations they needed. The mission was organised by the Cirujanos en Acción and Bisturí Solidario associations.
Impact of first trip
Nine months ago, César Ramírez travelled to Liberia for the first time and performed a series of operations. What he saw and experienced during that trip left a mark on him, and strengthened his resolve to help people in need.
During that first stay in Liberia, he promised a woman with a huge goiter that he would go back and operate on her, and he kept his word, performing the surgery in the town of Ganta, in the north of the country. That was the first operation he carried out on his second trip to Liberia; a further 27 patients underwent surgery in that operating theatre on the same day.
In total, more than 250 patients had operations during those six days, made possible thanks to anaesthiologists Sonia Trabanco and Javier Mora, general and digestive surgeons Óscar Cano, Marta Jiménez and César Ramírez, pediatric surgeon José Miguel Morán and also Francisco Gómez, nurse and instrumentalist.
In Liberia, which is the sixth-poorest country in the world, health care is neither free nor good quality. For that reason César Ramírez, through his foundation Bisturí Solidario, offers training and expert hands to treat thyroid problems which are very common in Africa because of the lack of iodine.
"I don't see this as an option; I see it as a vocation. This, for me, is what medical vocation is about. Trying to raise awareness of the need for help that exists in this world, especially in developing countries," he says.
Although thyroid problems are very common in Liberia, thyroidectomies are not an option.
"Removing the thyroid gland means taking medication for life afterwards and it is extremely difficult to access that medication in Liberia," says Dr Ramírez.
"So, instead, we remove most of the gland but we leave a tiny part, so there is not a total lack of thyroid hormones."
However, on this occasion the patients will have extra help thanks to the generosity of members of Bisturí Solidario, such as the director and president of Grupo Piscis, José Gómez, who has paid for all the drugs needed by 50 patients for a year. That amounts to 18,000 thyroid hormone tablets.