Surgeons Separate Parasitic Twin in Ethiopia

By Seble Teweldebirhan


Joined twins separatedAddis Ababa, July 5, 2012 ( - A multi-disciplinary team of doctors and surgeons performed separation of a parasitic twin from adolescent girl in Ethiopia. The surgery is the first of its kind for Ethiopia. The 8 hours procedure was successfully performed on June 27, 2012 at CURE hospital in Addis Ababa.


On a press conference on Tuesday this week at CURE hospital, the team announced that the girl was born with incomplete twin, called a parasitic twin attached to her pelvis. 

As a result, she had a conjoint body with incompletely developed arms, two additional developed legs, additional vagina, bladder, and kidney. This is a rare occurrence. Approximately, only 1 per 7-10 million live births are parasitic twin.


According to Dr. Eric Gocken, Medical Director at CURE hospital, Parasitic twins occur when a twin embryo begins developing in utero but the pair does not fully separate, and one embryo maintains dominant development at the expense of the other. The under-developed twin is parasitic, rather than conjoined, because it is incompletely formed or wholly dependant on the body functions of the complete fetus.


According to Dr. Biruk Lambisso, Associate Professor and Orthopaedic Surgeon at Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa, the surgery was successful because of strong teamwork. “Some people threatened us not to do the surgery and we don’t have skill or the necessary equipments. Others advised to send her to another country. Some even offered to cover her expense for a surgery outside Ethiopia. But as a team we studied the case and prepared ourselves to any worst scenario. Many people were part of the team for the success and we thank them for their cooperation’’


The 17 years old girl, Workitu lived near Addis Ababa, in Sebeta area. However, her families failed to take her to a hospital or consult a physician. The stigma and cultural condemenation made everyone around her (and herself included) believe it was a curse.


For the first time, health extension workers, who serve the community home to home, noticed her situation. They persuaded the family to see a doctor and find a solution. She was first referred to Tikur Anbessa hospital. “The residents and the specialists were confused at first. No doctor has ever seen this before. There were lots of confusion, discussion, and controversy. However, finally, we formed a team specialized in areas related to her case,” Dr. Bruck said.


The team included several doctors across many health and medical institutions. “It shows what we can do if we put our talents and skills together. No body thought this kind of surgery was possible in Ethiopia. We did it because we worked as a team, we trusted each other and everyone were committed to do his/her part,” Dr. Bruck added. The surgery is one considerable step for the growth of medical treatment in the country.


During the press conference on Monday, members of the team showed their gratitude to Ministry of Health, whom they say assisted them in every way possible. “If anyone has any doubt that Ethiopia is showing progress in healthcare, this should persuade them to think again,” Dr. Bruck said. “The country is doing very well in reaching even the remote areas in health services and trying to have a competitive medical service with the rest of the developing world. We hope, in future, Ethiopia will attract medical tourism,” he said.


The patient Workitu is now relatively well after a week of a major surgery that changed her entire life. During the press conference, Workitu said she is feeling better every day and she is thankful for the doctors and everyone involved in the surgery.


“When I was a child, I thought everybody was like me. I have never known my situation was different. However, when I reached grade three or four in school, people started to point at me and make fun of my appearance. At that point, I understood I was different. I could not take this mocking after seventh grade. So I withdrew from school and I have been staying at home since then. Right now I feel like I am born again,” she said.


CURE hospital is now trying to rehabilitate the psychological damage she suffered through her life.


Seble Teweldebirhan



Seble Teweldebirhan is Addis Ababa based Reporter for She can be reached by sending email through this form.


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