MBA : SDA Bocconi – Francis Sietchiping, an MBA at SDA Bocconi with its sights on Africa
Thirty-six-year-old citizen of the Cameroon, Sietchiping is currently patenting a system that could reduced by 70% the number of operations on digestive tracts in the South Saharian Africa. He will spend a year at the SDA Bocconi to assess the project’s feasibility and to learn how to apply top management tools to improve the African health system.
Francis Aurelien Sietchiping Nzepa spent a happy childhood in Penja in western Cameroon. His father has been working for forty years as a nurse at the local hospital, one of the town’s jewels, built by European companies operating the region’s banana plantations. In the 1970s the Europeans pulled out of the area and left the hospital, which soon fell into abandon. "For years I dreamed of rehabilitating the place," said the thirty-six-year-old Sietchiping, who took his medical degree and specialization (both with laude) in Perugia. "But after specializing I had another idea about business management and so I enrolled for the MBA at the Bocconi in order to acquire the necessary know- how and carry out my scheme."
The idea is the fruit of his knowledge of Cameroon’s socio-economic situation and of his degree in medicine. "I asked myself why African patients with gastrointestinal bleeding must be operated, whereas in Europe, thanks to advances in endoscopy, the patient gets a gastroscopy and a more precise diagnosis is made, which in many cases means fixing the problem without needing to operate." The answer lies in a training package for general practitioners that would enable them to perform small operations if required, plus the costs of the endoscopic equipment and the necessary instructions for how to use it.
Sietchiping’s brainchild is a mobile unit that can be put into use on rotation in different hospitals, using a system of tele-medicine that enables the transmission of endoscopic images and whatever else serves for a compete diagnosis, and in return the feedback for endoscopic operations.
The operators on-site would be able to use the machine even with limited training, and refer back to the central control room whenever a doubt arises. "With five doctors I could cover the entire country," reckons Sietchiping, "and reduce the number of demolitive operations by up to 70%." Today Camerun has no more than five qualified endoscopic gastroenterologists.
Sietchiping’s background is more complex than might seem at first, and his wealth of experience has made him what he is. At first he followed two-year course in natural sciences from 1990 to 1992 in Yaoundé University. "To follow the courses in petrochemical engineering I would have had to move to Europe," he observes, "and my father said he’d gladly spend money on a doctor, but not on an engineer. So I went to Perugia and began everything from scratch. I can thank my father now, who realized I was a doctor and not an engineer." Things were not easy, however. From the second year on, his father said he was old enough to manage for himself, and he had to alternate his studies with summer jobs, such as working in the tobacco fields or as assistant cook.
Nevertheless he managed to keep apace with his studies and got his degree first, then a post-graduate specialization in gastroenterology and digestive endoscopy. He has also been working as a researcher for over four years, publishing several papers. Since 2001, while working for the Institute of Gastroenterology of Perugia university, he has been working for the Umbrian association for the fight against cancer as an expert in pain therapy and palliative care and has run a special project to extend the oncological service to areas not already covered. "Africans tend to think that Europeans can help them, but that the reverse is impossible. As a doctor, but not only, I reckon I can," he concludes.
In 2002 he and his wife, Maria Adelaide Donarelli, – an Italian doctor who continues to live with their children in Perugia – founded an association, Kasafro, to support child victims of Aids in Camerun. "The idea is to lean on the extended family network, generally a really strong aspect of African society, but which fails in the case of Aids, for fear of catching it." Kasafro appeals to the aunts and uncles to take the orphaned children in with them, in exchange for a paid education for the orphan and for one of the children of the host family. Kasafro also runs a Children’s Home in Penja hosting children waiting to be adopted by a family.
"The idea of a mobile endoscopy unit is at least 60% a commercial enterprise," admits Sietchiping. "The Europeans have little idea of what Africans can afford. When there’s a problem the entire family is mobilized, and in Camerun they are prepared to travel hundreds of miles to the hospitals that have recently been renovated and no longer offer free health care."
The model for the unit, which will soon be covered by a series of patents, can be multiplied according to demand, and could be applied in other countries as well. Furthermore, as a working model it could be used for other types of medical specialization, such as laparascopic surgery, and could also be used for relaying information from a distance.
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