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Open Letter to President Joe Biden

Your Excellency President Biden,

It is my hope and prayer that you and your family are doing well! You have been leading our Nation at time when the world is facing unprecedented challenges not seen for decades. I pray for your continued health and strength as you tackle these challenges.

Over the last two years, I have sent you two letters: 1. An appeal for support of the establishment of the Center of Excellence of Advanced Spine Surgery in Maryland, and 2. My concern about the conflict between the government and the TPLF, in Ethiopia. I want to say thanks to your team for playing a critical role in helping resolve that conflict. Now the problem appears to have shifted south to Amhara and Oromia regions. Secretary Blinken’s visit to Ethiopia last week, and his efforts to bring the warring parties together is well appreciated and I expect a positive result going forward.

As I explained in my first letter, I was born and raised in a rural farming community in a border town of Moyale, between Ethiopia and Kenya. Most people suffered chronic back pain. That led me to specialize as an orthopedic spine surgeon, but the open spine surgery I was trained in was very traumatic and costly, and that led me to explore the least invasive, endoscopic surgical option. For that reason, I relocated to the USA, and while training as a Spine Fellow at the University Hospitals of Cleveland, Ohio, we developed 3 techniques within 3 years of my relocating to the USA, and today the world is benefiting from them. I also developed protocols which helped create multi-specialty, integrated, and value-based approach to spinal care based on the anatomic, image-based classification of the spinal conditions, which my colleagues and I had created. The idea of the Center of Excellence in spine care in Maryland was to train young spine surgeons in the endoscopic spine surgery, and to help minimize the suffering of patients because of lack of comprehensive, expeditious, and least traumatic surgical care, especially for the most vulnerable patients – the young and the elderly. Because of lack of appropriate treatment options for the various conditions, there were a staggering 110,236 opioid-related deaths in the USA, in 2022 – i.e. 302 deaths every 24 hours. While I do not have exact figures, chronic back pain sufferers accounted for a large proportion of those victims.

My purpose of writing this letter is to expand on those two earlier messages in the hope of helping build stronger bond and trust between the USA and Africa. In addition to the natural disasters such as illness and famine, intra-national and international conflicts have been ravaging Africa for a long time. Therefore, commitment to help resolve these problems in a sincere manner will build lasting friendship for the benefit of the USA and the African continent. I was invited to introduce the endoscopic spine surgery to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I trained spine surgeons and performed endoscopic spine surgeries at the ALERT Hospital from January 28th to February 10th, 2023. The enthusiasm of the young surgeons was immense, and the patients were so happy for relief of their pain without much trauma, and for the ability to walk within few hours after surgery! Ethiopia’s Minister of Health, Dr. Lia Tadese, joined us in the operating room to witness the last surgery I performed there. She also interviewed a few patients whom I had operated on the previous day. She tweeted her experience the following day, here is the link:

Very happy to witness the training of neurosurgeons in Endoscopic Spine Surgery by Dr. Said Osman, a renowned Spine Surgeon of Ethiopian origin from Cleveland, Ohio, treating patients using the newly installed state-of-the-art Spine Endoscopy Equipment at ALERT Hospital.

— Lia Tadesse (@lia_tadesse) February 9, 2023

Ethiopia’s population of working age-group (15-64 years of age) is about 65 million. About 46% (30 million) of them suffer from chronic back pain with about 70% loss of their productivity! For the entire continent of Africa chronic back sufferers are 300+ million people. So, it’s not only patients who suffer from chronic, disabling pain, but also the national economies! Earlier this month there was UN conference in Doha, Qatar, on the LDCs struggle to pay their debts to the international lenders. 33 of the LDCs members are African countries. While back pain is not the only reason why these countries are stuck in poverty, it is certainly a major, treatable contributor to their failure to progress.

A Center of Excellence in spine care, in Addis Ababa, will provide the most advanced care for patients, and also the necessary training for the spine surgeons from across the country and also from the rest of the continent. This will certainly improve the quality of life for individual patients and also improve their productivity, thus minimizing the risks of famine, and improve the economic performances of the nations. Needless to say, foreign investors in Africa will benefit a lot!

Such an investment in the welfare of the ordinary citizens, and their economies is the best way to help and win trust of the continent in the era of increasing international competition to influence. As I mentioned above, it was the suffering of our community’s farmers which made me specialize in spine surgery, but it is the USA which gave me the opportunity to develop the least invasive, most advanced, and cost-effected way to address their suffering. Going to Addis Ababa to deliver that service to the patients and train surgeons was my way of saying “Here is what my USA gave me, so that I give back to you”! It was a special, and emotional experience – the realization of the dream of 30-years long journey! I wish I knew Secretary Blinken was going to give additional $331 million to help Ethiopia through this difficult time, I would have asked him to set aside $50 million for the provision of advanced spine care services in Ethiopia!

Looking forward for this humanitarian and trust-building mission,

I remain,

Yours, respectfully,

Said G Osman, M.D., F.A.A.O.S., F.R.C.S.Ed., F.R.C.S.Ed.(ortho)