From August 22nd to 26th 2023, IAPB provided me with an opportunity to attend the 10th annual COECSA congress that was held at Pride Inn Beach Resort & Spa in Mombasa Kenya hosted by the Ophthalmological Society of Kenya.
Every year, the College of Ophthalmologists of the Eastern, Central and Southern Africa brings together delegates from East, Central and Southern Africa (ECSA) to foster collaboration, network, address challenges and chart the course for a more inclusive and accessible eye care landscape in the region.
The 10th COECSA congress brought together over 600 local and international delegates and exhibitors under the theme “Ophthalmology: Learning, Innovating, Leading.” These three pillars reflected the essence of eye care – a commitment to continuous learning, a drive to push the boundaries of innovation and a responsibility to lead the way in advancing eye care across the East, Central & Southern Africa region and beyond.
On the first day of the congress, the focus was on various eye health subspecialties providing an opportunity for professionals within the eye health space to share, exchange information and learn from each other. It was interesting to see the variety of innovations and best practices within the eye health space.
The second and the third day of the congress were the most interesting for me as they were less technical and had a public health angle which resonated well with my day-to-day work. One of the most interesting sessions was the address by the keynote speaker Dr. Gladys Atto, a Ugandan ophthalmologist who functionalized an eye unit and transformed it to a center of excellence for the provision of eye care services in Karamoja sub region in Uganda. Her story was a clear illustration of the power that there is in public and private partnerships. Besides working for the government, she collaborated with eye NGOs such as Sightsavers to ensure improved access to affordable and quality eye care services.
It was fascinating to see various players within the eye health sector display and showcase their work at the exhibition booths. The actors present in the booth comprised of Eye NGOs such as CBM, their partner Kenya Society for the Blind, HCP Cureblindness and eye health suppliers such as Novartis, Zeiss, Aurolab, and Appasamy who are equally a part of IAPB’s valued supplier scheme. What stood out for me was the state-of-the-art eye health equipment which to me signified the big strides made in ensuring access to eye health population. From the exhibitors, IAPB was able to recruit more suppliers into IAPB’s Valued Supplier Scheme.
Besides the main conference activities, there were several side events that took place alongside the conference which provided an opportunity for networking, learning and knowledge sharing. The activities included CBM alumni’s meeting, China-Africa eye health forum, DentMed presentations, ICEH alumni meeting, Glued IOL wet lab, Women in ophthalmology breakfast meeting, conference gala dinner and Human resources for eye health workshop.
After the COECSA conference, on Saturday 26th, I got the opportunity to attend the Human Resource for Eye Health Workshop organized by the Fred Hollows Foundation in collaboration with COECSA and IAPB. This partnership is looking to support the development of an HREH strategy for the ECSA region. The workshop held brought together a broad range of stakeholders interested in addressing the HReH challenge across Central, East & Southern Africa. Delegates were able to consider and discuss the results of the scoping study carried out in several ECSA countries, and to begin development of a regional HReH strategy and funding plan.
Several things that stood out for me at the conference include:
- A wet lab session on Phacoemulsification which entailed a brief deductive class on the surgery and a practical session on the surgery. It was incredible for me to see a live mock surgery.
- The Women Leaders in Eye Health Breakfast meeting by Orbis and Africa Ophthalmology Council was the first of the kind. The symposium on mentorship for women encompassed knowledge sharing between mentors and mentees.
- A dinner gala organized by COECSA at Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort & Spa that allowed for dining and interactions outside of the conference. At the dinner, a few delegates received recognition awards for their exemplary work in the eye care space.
In relation to my day-to-day work, the COECSA conference provided me with the opportunity to physically meet a lot of IAPB members in the region whom I had only e-met, and this has made my interactions with them more personal and easier.
Equally, together with my colleague Simon Day, we were able to meet a team from Zambia and as a result, we are in the process of working on establishing a National Advocacy Network in Zambia that will help elevate, activate, and integrate eye health into the wider health systems.
In light of this, I highly support the participation of IAPB in future COECSA Congresses.
Mombasa indeed proved an appropriate destination as it offered beauty and cultural richness through the stunning coastal landscape and the vibrant local traditions. The walks around the beach in the evenings after the sessions were soul refreshing and thoroughly enjoyed attending the congress.
The COECSA Congress promised to give science, sun and sand and it delivered!