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23.03.2007 Health

Heart surgery for dogs and cats “obscene” says doctor

By bmj

The disparity between care of domestic animals in the developed world and human beings in sub-Saharan Africa is obscene, says a senior doctor in this week's BMJ.

Arriving back in Britain after 14 years working in East Africa as a medical missionary, consultant anaesthetist, Raymond Towey says he was shocked to see that open heart surgery is now available for domestic dogs and cats, whereas in sub-Saharan Africa most patients needing such expensive care are sent home to die, assuming they even reach a hospital in the first place.

“I am left with one word that alone sums up my assessment of the amazing advances in the United Kingdom and the appalling comparison with medical care in sub-Saharan Africa: obscene,” he says. Will doctors in years to come wonder at how we could tolerate such an obscene disparity?

He recalls his time as a young hospital doctor in the late 1960s and 1970s when cardiac surgery was taking off. “I am sure that today's young veterinary surgeons and anaesthetists must be relishing open heart surgery for dogs and cats in a similar way,” he writes.

In 1846 the first successful anaesthetic to be publicly demonstrated was ether and this agent is the mainstay of anaesthetic practice in sub-Saharan Africa. But for open heart surgery in domestic animals, a newer generation of anaesthetic agents is available, which for him accentuates the obscenity.

“Perhaps in time I will emerge from this culture shock and learn to accept with equanimity this appalling disparity between care of domestic animals in the developed world and human beings in sub-Saharan Africa – or perhaps this article is a sign of my underlying inability to adapt,” he adds.

“At the moment, I am hoping that I do not adapt, because either I am suffering from a severe form of “speciesism,” or a global underlying racism exists that allows this obscenity to be tolerated,” he concludes.

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