FeaturesCampaigning to Promote a Healthier World: Dr Mufaddal Gombera

Campaigning to Promote a Healthier World: Dr Mufaddal Gombera

Dr Mufaddal M. Gombera is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine, arthroscopy (or problems with joints), and the treatment of injuries to the shoulder, hip, and knee. He provides expert care to his patients by using the latest advanced treatments and minimally invasive techniques to speed recovery and oftentimes avoid surgery. In this interview, Mufaddal shares his experiences of conducting medical camps in remote areas in Yemen, Madagascar, and India. 

1. What inspired you to apply your professional training to community service?

Being a Dawoodi Bohra, I have grown up in an environment in which the importance of helping our fellow human beings is learned at an early age.  In this regard, the guidance of our community leader, His Holiness Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, has been a true inspiration to me.

It is also encouraging to be part of an active forum of medical professionals within our community. The conversations and stories that are shared in those settings are a source of inspiration, creating opportunities to provide much-needed healthcare to underserved populations, and simultaneously learning from and working with colleagues and other Dawoodi Bohras in different contexts and locations.

Dr Gombera checks a patient at a medical camp in Bani Ahlas, Yemen in 2013.
A view of the exterior of the camp in Yemen.
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Dr Gombera checks a patient at a medical camp in Bani Ahlas, Yemen in 2013.
A view of the exterior of the camp in Yemen.
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2. Tell us a little about your experiences of conducting medical camps in remote places in Yemen, Madagascar, and India.

In many gatherings – large and small – it has been common for medical camps or screening drives to be organised. These have been successful due to the accessibility of resources, and the availability of personnel and volunteers.

In contrast, camps in remote and underserved regions are another experience altogether.  One of the first remote medical camps I participated in was in the Haraaz region of Yemen in a small town called Bani Ahlas, in February 2013. Here, we worked with physicians from Houston and Yemen to evaluate, screen, and provide care to the best of our abilities. It was heartwarming to witness people come from hundreds of miles, undertaking arduous journeys through the rugged mountainous terrain, to receive healthcare. Without X-rays, MRIs, imaging studies, or lab work, but with a significant language barrier, we had to provide our services as best we could. We had a similar opportunity in Madagascar during His Holiness’ visit to the country in May 2022 and recently in the remote villages and towns of Rajasthan, India during His Holiness’ visit in November.  

3. How did you manage the logistics of setting up these camps in terms of manpower, venues, equipment, notifying the locals?

We reached out to the trip organizers and local medical providers to understand the availability of resources on the ground. In setting up the Madagascar camp, we were able to source supplies, diagnostic tools, and medications from the Saifee Clinic in Kenya, and were able to manage this within a day of the trip being finalized. Fortunately, we had several physicians in the group; an Ophthalmologist from Kenya, a Physiotherapist from Tanzania, a Radiologist from London, an Orthopedist from Houston, an Internist from India, and two local Internists from Madagascar. 

One of the biggest challenges in Madagascar was traveling between towns. What should have taken 4 to 5 hours to drive took us up to 48 hours. Hence, organising and starting the camp was truly a monumental group effort. The local physicians and health care providers in Majunga were critical in arranging for volunteers and setting up the venue.

In Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar is the only place where a large hospital, advanced imaging (like CT, MRI) centers, physical therapy, and other advanced treatments are available. Because of the challenging travel situations, access to routine medical care is extremely difficult for people living in other areas. This made the camp in Mahajanga extremely important for the local population. 

4. How did you find treating patients in remote settings different from the United States?

In the USA, we rely on diagnostic tools and studies to make informed decisions and formulate treatment plans. For example, as an orthopedic surgeon, I almost always ask for x-rays when evaluating someone in pain. It is second nature to order screening studies and run diagnostic tests for a quick evaluation.

However, in these remote regions, we had barely a few minutes to form a diagnosis, with minimal to no diagnostic tools. Our knee-jerk reaction of ordering further studies was hindered, so we relied on evaluating and identifying the problem, reviewing what treatment had been offered previously, what medications were being used, and how those medications or treatments compare to what we would prescribe or recommend back home. 

Additionally, to add to the problem, there are regional differences in diagnosis names, treatment plans, and medications, all of which were amplified in these situations. This, I believe, truly challenged us to use our critical knowledge and skills in order to facilitate the best possible care of patients attending the camps.

5. What are your key learnings from such trips?

One of the key things that we have learned and experienced is that health and wellbeing are a universal language. Physicians with all sorts of training and backgrounds in various fields and different countries met with people in camps from different continents, with all coming together to improve people’s wellbeing. 

Above all, these trips cemented my relations with fellow doctors from the Bohra community by giving me the chance to collaborate on a common agenda. Be it Dr Mohammed Tarmal, a physical therapist from Tanzania, Dr Mohammed Peethwala, an internist from India, or Dr Mohammed Karimjee, an internist from USA, and Dr Murtaza Ezzy, a physiotherapist from Kuwait, the experience of working with such professionals who bring their unique insights to the table is something that I cherish.

My colleagues and I feel a deeper compassion with not only the patients we met and assisted but with our own patients back home. It gave us a greater sense of empathy that we feel will make us better physicians. The irony here is that we set out with the ambition to help others, and yet we benefited tremendously ourselves from the experiences we garnered.

Above all, these trips cemented my relations with fellow doctors from the Bohra community by giving me the chance to collaborate on a common agenda.

Dr Mufaddal Gombera
6. As a Doctor, what sense of responsibility do you feel towards your patients?

In addition to providing medical care, doctors play an important role as advocates for public health, working to address issues such as access to quality healthcare, preventative health initiatives, and education on healthy lifestyles. Many physicians like myself are involved in research and innovation, seeking to find new and better ways to prevent and treat various medical conditions.

Many healthcare providers feel their role is not limited to treating individual patients, but is also about working to improve the health and well-being of the broader community. This sense of responsibility extends beyond patients and includes a commitment to being an active and engaged member of society.

7. What are you currently working on?

At the moment many of my colleagues and I are working with the community’s central Healthcare and Medical Facilities Department  in Mumbai, and the Saifee Burhani Medical Association of America (SBMAA), on bone and joint health initiatives. The programs we are designing are focused on bone health, injury prevention, and the benefits of an active lifestyle. We hope these initiatives will have a long lasting effect on patients around the world. 

You may read more about Dr. Mufaddal’s take on life as a medical professional here.