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The Miracle Man from Tennessee

Dr. Wahid Hanna is too modest to call himself a miracle man.

Dr. Wahid Hanna (center) and his team

Not so for patients in Egypt, where he’s moved mountains to improve access to treatment, increase factor supplies, and improve knowledge of bleeding disorders over the past 12 years. Along the way, Wahid has changed the lives of some people in ways they’ll never forget.

A medical practitioner for almost 40 years, Wahid practised in the United Kingdom before joining the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville as chief of the Division of Oncology and Hematology.

“The center provides comprehensive care for about 240 hemophilia patients in the region,” he says. “But I also felt obliged to look further afield to the country where I was born. I knew hemophilia care had not progressed well in Egypt.”

In 1996, Egypt’s Ministry of Health and Scientific Research invited Wahid to assess the country’s hemophilia care and produce a report with recommendations. He did more than that. The Egyptian-born hematologist worked tirelessly to help implement the measures he had identified as necessary.

“At that time, treatment was very sub-optimal in all aspects,” he says. “There was little interest in hemophilia care, which was available in just a few centers for the whole country. Treatment was mainly through fresh frozen plasma and some cryoprecipitate. Access to factor was limited because it was considered too expensive and viewed as a ‘foreign’ remedy that carried the risk of HIV.”

In recent years, Wahid has seen significant improvements in Egypt’s approach to hemophilia.

“There are now 11 centers with more hematologists committed to treatment,” he says. “Awareness has increased among medical practitioners and government health officials. We attract up to 100 participants at our annual seminars instead of just a handful. Factor availability has also improved, although it’s still not up to the desired standard.”

Wahid believes a number of factors are responsible for these developments:

“I attribute the change to a combination of support from the World Federation of Hemophilia (WFH), my own interest and the involvement of other committed individuals. Although the response was not great at first, gradually trust was built up once people knew I was genuinely interested in supporting them and giving them my time.”

That commitment was clearly demonstrated in the case of Tamer, a young graduate teacher from Cairo, whose leg bleed after an accident developed into a huge pseudo tumour. Lacking adequate treatment, Tamer could not move or look after himself and was bedridden at home for two-and-half years.

“I’d never seen anything like it,” says Wahid. “His leg weighed 46 pounds and was the diameter of my waist. The femur was destroyed and he would have died. The only treatment was to amputate Tamer’s leg with an operation that was not possible in Egypt.”

To bring the patient to Knoxville, Wahid launched a fundraising campaign through his church and the local newspaper. He also persuaded his medical colleagues and the hospital to provide treatment and rehabilitation for free.

The efforts paid off. Tamer’s surgery was successful and he stayed for nine months of rehabilitative treatment. During that time Wahid convinced healthcare companies to donate a prosthetic leg and enough factor to sustain Tamer through his recovery.

“This young man is now happily back in Egypt teaching and thinking about getting married.” says Wahid. “Tamer is also working to help other people with hemophilia. I see it all as a big achievement.”

Wahid has chalked up many other big achievements during his long association with the World Federation of Hemophilia (WFH). He helped smooth the way for health officials in Egypt to sign up for the WFH’s Global Alliance for Progress (GAP) in hemophilia project in 2003. Under the GAP agreement, the Egyptian government committed to implementing a range of improvements to the country’s hemophilia treatment and care.

In addition, the Knoxville medical center has been involved in the WFH Twinning Program with Egypt since 1999. The twinning partnership has been renewed every three years with various hemophilia organizations and now includes Zagazig and Alexandria universities.

“As part of the twinning, I attend an annual conference in Egypt with other hemophilia experts,” says Wahid. “We set specific goals for each year. One achievement was the establishment of national treatment guidelines. Another year, we developed software that enables hemophilia patients throughout Egypt to be registered.”

Between twinning trips, Wahid makes himself available for telephone consultations and arranges training visits to Knoxville for Egyptian medical practitioners.

“Travelling between the U.S. and Egypt can be frustrating, because you become very aware of the disparities in hemophilia care.”

“But it is improving. And to see that improvement happening in big steps is very rewarding.”

If you know someone who deserves to be recognized for their outstanding leadership as a WFH volunteer, we invite you to submit a nomination for one of the WFH’s international volunteer awards. The deadline for nominations is March 15, 2010. Award recipients will be announced July 2010 at the WFH Congress in Buenos Aires. Find out more at www.wfh.org.

The WFH is grateful for the support for the GAP program by founding sponsor Baxter; sustaining sponsor CSL Behring; supporting sponsors Bayer, Biotest, Talecris, and Wyeth, now a part of Pfizer; contributing sponsors the André de la Porte Family Foundation and the Irish Haemophilia Society; and collaborating partner the World Health Organization.

 

November 2009