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Students in Gaza watch world’s first virtual reality operation

April 20, 2016 at 1:30 pm

In a world first, British surgeon Dr. Shafi Ahmed live-streamed an operation using Google glasses allowing students around the world to get a doctor’s view of the procedure last Thursday.

Medical students and staff in Gaza were among some 13,000 viewers who watched the doctor remove cancerous tissue from a 78-year-old patient with colon cancer at the Royal London Hospital.

Coordinating with Dr. Ahmed, Dr. Khamis Elessi, neuro-rehabilitation specialist & head of Evidence-Based Medicine unit at the Islamic University of Gaza’s medical school, organised a live stream event of the operation at the university.

Although the Virtual Reality headsets sent to Gaza have not made it into the Strip due to the strict Israeli siege, Dr. Elessi and his team located three headsets owned by a private company in Gaza.

“Due to the shortage in VR headsets, the preparation for the live-streaming was stressful and the size of the event was limited,” Dr. Elessi told MEMO, “but the experience was very well-received by the students, senior academics and Ministry of Health decision makers that we invited to attend.”

Exchanging medical knowledge and expertise through the internet is not new to Gaza’s medical schools. Dr. Elessi described how his university ran hundreds of lectures in cooperation with the University of Oslo, with whom they are twinned, via video conference. This came after university delegations were unable to travel on exchange programmes due to the siege.

The now 10-year-old siege imposed on the Gaza Strip has hindered students from seeking education abroad or accessing medical resources and training in a way that other students worldwide are. “These online initiatives are a good way of challenging and breaking the siege imposed on Gaza,” Dr. Elessi said of their impact on training Gaza’s medical students.

As Dr. Ahmed has demonstrated with his initiative, the prospects for VR technology in medical education are indeed high.

“The live streaming of an operation using live 360° video technology is unprecedented and I am sure future live-streamed operations with live Q&A sessions between our students and the surgeon would go a long way,” Dr. Elessi added.
Medical student Osaid Alser said the experience was extraordinary; he thanked Dr. Ahmed for making it happen.

Dr. Ahmed has previously taken the precarious journey to the Gaza Strip himself on a Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) delegation and ran lectures on augmented reality as a tool to support surgical training in the besieged enclave among other things.

“I’m so honoured and privileged that the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank could join me last Thursday for the world’s first Virtual Reality operation and being an integral part of this world which has just become smaller,” Dr. Ahmed told MEMO.

He stressed that medical training and access to knowledge should not be constrained by where people live or what resources are available. “It is a fundamental human right,” he said.