Interview given for the portal ‘Telegrafi’ by the Founding President of the Kosova College of Surgeons, Prof. Rifat Latifi
The establishment, functionalization and preparation of scientific, and administrative cadres of the Kosova College of Surgeons, is the main goal of the founding president of this College, Rifat Latifi, a well known surgeon in the United States of America, and who in the Albanian community as and the Telemedicine community worldwide, is recognized as one of the world authorities in Telemedicine.
The creation of The Kosova College of Surgeons of Kosovo, which is the first in the Balkans, Latifi in an interview with Telegraf said that with The Kosova College of Surgeons, we can change the page of Kosova’s Surgery, and medicine in general, because Surgery is the “Queen of Medicine”.
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and the different variants of the virus, Latifi says that Delta variant poses a serious challenge for being in control of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, and worldwide. But, he said, vaccines are the only way forward that will preserve healthcare infrastructure and the economy, and ultimately maintain and control the pandemic.
Rifat Latifi also spoke about the management of pandemic in Kosova.
“If there are no material tools, if there is no adequate infrastructure, then it can be done only with those tools you have at hand. “The whole population must be convinced that this is very serious, that they must be vaccinated, and that they must adhere to the rules in force,” he said in an interview with Telegraf.
Speaking about the Albanian-American PAN Congress where he is also a member of the board, dr. Latifi highlighted that this Congress is an attempt to reactivate the reconstruction of the Albanian-American lobby, and for this the Albanian-American community must work hard to achieve a quarter of what the Albanian League and the Albanian lobby have done in the past.
But who is dr. Rifat Latifi ?! He is a Professor and Chief Executive Officer of Surgery at New York Medical College, School of Medicine, Director of the Department of Surgery, and Head of General Surgery at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York. He had the same title previously at the University of Virginia in Virginia, the University of Arizona, Tucson and Doha, Qatar. He is a member of the American College of Surgeons and the International College of Surgeons, and he is the Founding Chairman of the Kosova College of Surgeons since December 2018. During his two terms, he has also been President of the Arizona State College of Surgeons.
Dr. Latifi is an embodiment of the academic surgeon: clinician and mentor of many young surgeons in the US, Kosovo, Albania and many countries around the world. He is the author and co-author of over 350 scientific papers and book chapters, and has written / edited 20 books in various fields in the field of Surgery, and Telemedicine, Patient Nutrition and other fields. In addition, he serves on the editorial boards of many international surgical journals, and is an editor for Hernia magazine and the European Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery. Most recently, he is the editor-in-chief of the English Journal of Surgery, published in English.
He is a member of several large (in America), national and international surgical state organizations, including the American Society of Surgery, the most prestigious surgical association in the world.
In this interview, dr. Latifi also announced that The First Clinical Congress of the Kosova College of Surgeons is going to take place in a hybrid manner (due to the escalation of the condition of Covid-19) on September 23-26.
Telegrafi: What are the Clinical and Scientific Research interests of Dr. Latifit?
Dr. Rifat Latifi: I have different and wide clinical and research interests in the science of surgery, but mostly I have interest in complex reoperative surgery, complex trauma and general surgery, critical surgical care and resuscitation, surgical decision making and geriatric surgery, telemedicine. My main clinical and research interest for the last 10 years, however, is the reconstruction of the abdominal wall for complex hernias, especially in patients with cirrhosis and after trauma and surgical intra-abdominal catastrophes. I am the author of two publications of Complex Abdominal Wall Surgery and an in-depth researcher of the process of how surgeons make complicated decisions even when there is not much time to make a decision. I am currently working on the 2nd edition of this book on ‘Surgical Decision’. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Rifat+Latifi&ref=nb_sb_noss
Telegrafi: What does dr. Latifi work on and what is he known for?
Dr. Rifat Latifi: First I am a simple surgeon, modest, without any arrogance. Since 2016 when I transferred from the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona I am also the director of the Department of Surgery at the Westchester Medical Center Health Network, professor and chief executive of the Department of Surgery at New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY, one of the oldest Schools of Medicine in the United States (established 1861). The Department of Surgery, which I lead, is in the network of ten hospitals. With all this, I am also an active surgeon with a very busy practice, I do open surgeries, laparoscopic and also robotic surgery.
I was born in Klodernica of Drenica, I graduated from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Prishtina, and during my studies I was an active journalist. After moving to the US, I engaged in scientific research for several years, and then began my specialization at the renowned Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. I completed my specialization in General Surgery at Yale University and my second specialization in Trauma and Intensive Surgical Care at Lincoln Hospital, New York Medical College, Bronx.
In the Albanian community as well as the Telemedicine community worldwide, Dr. Latifi is recognized as one of the worlds authorities in Telemedicine and Telehealth.
Furthermore, I am passionately committed to Global Surgery and International Telemedicine, as a platform for rebuilding healthcare systems in the developing world and post-conflict countries. I am the author of three national Telemedicine programs in the world: Kosovo, Albania, and Cabo Verde (Africa), (for which he received the award from the American College of Surgeons / Pfizer International Surgical Volunteerism in 2015). In addition, I have created the first program of Teletrauma and Telepresence in Arizona, which served residents along the U.S.-Mexico border. For these and for the Telemedicine program in Kosovo, I received the “21st Century Achievement Award for Health” from the Computerworld Program and the “International Award for Health Promotion” from the Utilization Review Accreditation Commission (URAC).
In 2017, I was honored with the “Distinguished Doctors” of Westchester County in New York, “The award is not far off” from the Westchester Business Journal in Westchester, New York and Top Doctors in 2020. In addition, I also have the Certificate of Acknowledgments ”, from NATO Headquarters, Brussels for Dedication and Excellent Work for the Multinational Telemedicine System where I was a questionnaire clinician. Since 2006, I have participated as a volunteer surgeon in the Philippines, and served on the American College of Surgeons Committee on Global Engagement. Currently, I serve as Vice President and New York State Delegate to the International College of Surgeons, U.S. Chapter.
Telegrafi: Was this a difficult road?
Dr. Rifat Latifi: The road was very difficult, but I would do it a hundred times, if necessary, because only with hard work and dedication does a person achieve what he wants and justifies being alive. Personally, I have been very lucky throughout my life, from my family, the village and the place where I was born, up to traveling around the world.
Telegrafi: But what preoccupies you today, and what are your goals for the future?
Dr. Rifat Latifi: The establishment, functionalization and preparation of scientific, and administrative cadres of the Kosova College of Surgeons, which will return authority and trust to Surgeons, the trust they once had, will be the main preoccupation for my next ten years. If I have had the good fortune with the 14 leaders of the Kosovo Surgical Associations, to establish the College of Surgeons, the first in the Balkans, and in Eastern Europe, and for them to trust me to be in charge of this extraordinary group of Kosova Surgeons, then I will do everything I can, but also the impossible, in order to change the page of Kosova Surgery, because Surgery is the “Queen of Medicine”.
Surgery is and should be a national priority of people, of every state, it is a human priority. One third of deaths in the world occur due to lack or poor quality of surgery or inability to perform surgery at all. There can be no modern hospital without modern surgery; there can be no modern health system without modern and advanced surgery. There can be no modern surgery department without individual surgeons trained to lead the modernization of this process, which ultimately creates the health system. Finally, there is no advanced medicine, without patient safety and without high quality clinical surgical services, that make a modern surgery department and a modern hospital.
These are the priorities of the Kosoca College of Surgeons, and these are issues that keep me awake at night, but by power, work and will we will not stop in this process.
It is important that we lay the foundations of Kosova College, foundations that are strong administrative, legal, academic and return authority to surgeons of Kosova, and support them as one of the most important values and national assets, for their establishment the society and the state of Kosovo has given a lot. When Professor Sami Haxhibeqiri, Professor Gazmend Shaqiri and others died, Kosova had to declare days of mourning. All surgeons need tens of years to prepare, to be successful and to do what most can not even imagine, so they need to be treated and behaved as such.
Telegrafi: How can this vision be achieved?
Dr. Rifat Latifi: I always see the positive side and see new opportunities, so although this is an unenviable and in fact very bad situation, nevertheless, it presents a great collective opportunity to develop and implement a 100-year scientific strategy in surgery. We desperately need this strategy, which requires state, public, and individual commitment. But we surgeons should not expect that something extraordinary will fall on us either from the sky, or from some international charity or from a profit organization, or will come from the Parliament of Kosovo itself.
We must have our own ideas, our own courage, our own determination and individual and collective commitment to change this situation, according to the American and other countries’ experience.
We must create long-term programs, not one-year, not four-years, not for a term of one or another political party in power, but a 100-years old national programs. These programs should be structured and long-term, but we do not want those programs to be written in stone, but ready to be modeled and engraved according to scientific developments. Only scientific advances should be a beacon of our scientific path, not change directions and destroy achievements, every time governments change, every time ministers change, every time political coalitions change. These programs should be guided and created by scientific strategies, those who want the best for Kosova, and who have the professional skills to see beyond the short time chapters. Science and medicine should become the main priority of every government and state of Kosovo. We need to invest in staffing that will guide our 100-year strategy. For the scientific development of surgery, we surgeons ourselves must do our job, but as a part and a serious integrative and transparent partner of the overall development of Kosovo.
Telegrafi: What are the current and long-term tasks of the Kosovo College of Surgeons?
Dr. Rifat Latifi: The Kosova College of Surgeons (KCS), is an umbrella of associations of Kosova Surgeons and an organization of all surgeons outside Kosova. The long-term programs are:
-To create sustainable leadership infrastructure, professional support, and optimal spatial, technological, and administrative environment to lead the activities of the College. To publish the Kosova Journal of Surgery as the official journal of the Kosova College of Surgeons, a journal that in the next 5-7 years will be cited in PubMed, SCOPUS and other search engines; and the College Bulletin starting next year.
-To publish the Kosova Journal of Surgery as the official journal of the Kosova, College of Surgeons, a journal that in the next 5-7 years will be cited in PubMed, SCOPUS and other search engines; and the College Bulletin starting next year.
-To create its own process of evaluation of studies and scientific research as well as editorial capacities through structured educational programs.
-To build a multi-disciplinary Scientific Research Clinical Center in Kosova, with human academic facilities and capacities.
-Make the College, like the American College, an instrument for accreditation of the quality of surgical services in all hospitals for various surgical disciplines such as trauma, cancer, vascular surgery and other future programs such as transplantation and others for the Ministry of Health .
-Establish advocacy programs and capacities to represent the College in government agencies and in international cooperation relations.
-Create educational programs to support patients and families with surgical diseases to raise health awareness.
-Establish Advanced Quality Enhancement Services and Patient Quality and Safety Programs in all surgical disciplines, in order to improve the quality of care, based on the quality of the American College of Surgeons, and improve programs and safety of the patient; and finally,
-To organize and strengthen the work of the College through about 13 committees. Other working groups and committees will be added as needed, as the College increases its activity and content.
Telegrafi: In addition to your professional work, you are also a member of the board of the Albanian-American PAN Congress. Can the formation of this Congress be called a reactivation of the Albanian-American lobby?
Dr. Rifat Latifi: Anyway, it is an attempt to reactivate the reconstruction of the Albanian-American lobby. We need a lot of work to achieve a quarter of what the Albanian League and the Albanian lobby have done in the past. Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, instead of strengthening and massifying this lobby, it has been destroyed, because it has been politicized by Prishtina and has been divided into small groups. When the physical war in Kosovo ended, we, the Albanian community, with the help of Kosova’s leaders, had to start a new war, a struggle to build law and the foundations of a new state, a struggle for new cadres, and a struggle to keep close those we had and to expand our network of American friends.
The lobby and the leaders, as well as all the participants in the lobby, have been forgotten by Kosova, and thus a tremendous wealth and strength of Kosova has been destroyed in America . Now, we must once again start this new war, Kosova is not out of crisis, freedom is not complete, development is half and in process, while the intellectual brains of Kosova are leaving Kosova for Germany and other countries.
Telegrafi: The world has long been facing the Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic. There are several types of vaccines in use, but the virus has spread to humans on a large scale. Enough has been done in this direction, and how do you see the situation not only in the US, but globally?
Dr. Rifat Latifi: According to the highly authoritative US magazine JAMA (Journal of Medical Association) the Delta variant, first identified in India in December 2020, spread rapidly across the country mainly to the unvaccinated and caused a massive number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. In England, the Delta variant also spread rapidly despite high vaccination coverage, although there was a much slower increase in hospitalizations and deaths. Some public health experts have speculated that this rapid spread was at least partly explained by the country’s decision to delay second doses of the vaccine.
In the US, the Delta variant was first identified in March 2021. Since then, Delta has become the predominant variant in the US and has caused a wide wave of new infections, especially in countries where community vaccination rates are low. In fact, the spread of Delta is largely a reflection of unequal vaccination coverage in the US, with a much larger number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths among states with low vaccination rates and limited public health measures .
The Delta variant is highly transmissible, estimated to be about 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, and the CDC has suggested high reproduction rates.
Telegrafi: How do you assess the management of this situation by Kosova’s institutions?
Dr. Rifat Latifi: Kosova’s medical institutions have done what they could when they could. It is easy for us who are out to criticize one or another country, but if you do not have the material means, if you do not have adequate infrastructure, then only what can be done can be done, with the means at hand. The whole population must be convinced that this is very serious, that they must be vaccinated, and that they must obey the rules in force.
Telegrafi: How safe are people from getting vaccines, how long can they last, and is there room for suspicion of side effects?
Dr. Rifat Latifi: The Delta variant poses a serious challenge to controlling the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, and worldwide. Effective response to this formidable variant will require an evidence-based response that, unfortunately, has not been the case for many countries in the world. Vaccines are the only way forward that will preserve healthcare infrastructure and the economy, and ultimately contain and control the pandemic.
Increasing vaccination coverage among populations who are reluctant to receive the vaccine will require the full participation and commitment of all, including government officials, physicians, public health practitioners, and community members. Elected officials and other policymakers can do their part now by giving strong support to vaccination strategies and mitigating public health. We do not know, how long the immunity lasts after the vaccine, and it is very possible that the vaccine should be repeated, as well as the flu vaccine that we receive every year.
Telegrafi: Prof. dr. Latifi, what is your message to young people aiming for the path to success?
Dr. Rifat Latifi: You have to work 26 hours a day, taking two hours from the next day, and do not waste a single second doing nothing.