The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) honored Dr. Roger Härtl, co-director of Och Spine at NewYork-Presbyterian and director of Weill Cornell Medicine’s Center for Comprehensive Spine Care, with its prestigious Humanitarian of the Year award at its annual meeting on April 29.
The AANS lauded Dr. Härtl for his work as founder of the Global Neurosurgery Initiative at Bugando Medical Centre in Mwanza, Tanzania and for his commitment to global neurosurgical education. The award is one of the highest honors bestowed by the AANS.
“I am humbled to have been recognized for the work we’ve done to bring life-saving medical services to those in need,” said Dr. 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.”
Dr. Härtl, who is also director of neurosurgery spine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, created 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,” recalls Dr. Härtl. “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. African-trained providers also come to train alongside Dr. 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, Dr. Härtl maintained the program using virtual meetings, hosting the annual neurotrauma course on Zoom, and he added a second virtual course focused on scoliosis.
In awarding Dr. Härtl this honor, the AANS also recognized his 20 years of leading an annual neurosurgery and spine surgery-training program for Eastern European surgeons through the Salzburg Weill Cornell Seminars in Salzburg, Austria, and his work teaching spine surgery techniques to surgeons in other locations, including Pakistan and Iraq.