Roger Härtl, co-director of Och Spine at NewYork-Presbyterian and director of Weill Cornell Medicine’s Center for Comprehensive Spine Care (New York, USA), was recently honoured with the American Association of Neurological Surgeons’ (AANS) prestigious Humanitarian of the Year award.
The AANS lauded Härtl—who received the award at the 2022 AANS Annual Scientific Meeting (29 April–2 May; Philadelphia, USA)—for his work as founder of the Global Neurosurgery Initiative at Bugando Medical Centre (Mwanza, Tanzania) and for his commitment to global neurosurgical education.
“I am humbled to have been recognised for the work we’ve done to bring life-saving medical services to those in need,” said Härtl. “This award reflects not just my work, but also the tremendous support of both NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine and the dedication of our extraordinary colleagues in Tanzania, who are constantly striving to learn more about neurosurgery and improve healthcare in their communities.”
Härtl founded the Neurosurgical Mission in Tanzania in 2008 in an effort to bring neurosurgical training to this underserved region.
“When I first visited Tanzania as a medical student, I was profoundly affected by what he saw there,” he said. “Children suffering with untreated hydrocephalus; teens and adults who lost decades of useful life as a result of uncorrected spinal deformity; and many patients who died waiting for surgery after traumatic injury. I believed there was more we could do to help.”
The groundbreaking program has blossomed over 15 years from a single trip delivering supplies into a robust year-round program with an exchange of fellows and an annual hands-on neurotrauma course.
In addition, African-trained providers also come to train alongside Härtl at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and bring their newfound skills back home to train peers in their country. Despite travel interruptions due to the pandemic, Härtl maintained the program using virtual meetings, hosting the annual neurotrauma course on Zoom, and added a second virtual course focused on scoliosis.
In awarding Härtl Humanitarian of the Year, the AANS also recognised his 20 years of leading an annual neurosurgery and spine surgery-training program for Eastern European surgeons through the Salzburg Weill Cornell Seminars (Salzburg, Austria), and his work teaching spine surgery techniques to surgeons in other locations, including Pakistan and Iraq.