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For World Glaucoma Week, Dr. Scott Lawrence, Kellogg Eye Center for International Ophthalmology (KECIO) reports from an active surgical outreach to alleviate blindness in Southern Ethiopia.
A farmer carries his 3-year-old son into the exam room. Our cursory examination reveals enlarged eyes with cloudy corneas and elevated eye pressures. Undiagnosed and untreated congenital glaucoma remains an important cause of blindness throughout the world, and we are seeing more of it this week than we expected. A nurse ushers the patient into the operating theater, where we perform complex, bilateral eye surgeries to normalize the eye pressures and allow for visual development to proceed.
In the lead up to our surgical campaign, COVID-19 has rightly dominated the news cycle and disrupted global travel. As a majority of our visiting surgeons and faculty were forced to cancel their travel plans, our local team faced a dilemma. Do we postpone a large programme that has been in the works for months? Considering all of the health promotion and awareness efforts that had been completed as well as the ongoing patient screening, we decided to proceed as planned.
A collaborative effort between two Ethiopian universities, multiple NGOs, and industry leaders enabled us to design an innovative model of humanitarian outreach. For our week-long campaign, we have marshalled our human and capital resources to treat patients suffering from major causes of treatable blindness and low vision, especially glaucoma and cataracts. Moreover, we are intentionally using this platform for high-impact training, where ophthalmology residents and glaucoma fellows receive hands-on, supervised surgical training. Additionally, the scale and intensity of the experience allows support staff to expand their skill set and efficiency.
We arrived in Jimma at the beginning of the week to find many patients and their families crowding the premises two days earlier than planned. We adjusted our schedule to perform more than 100 glaucoma and cataract surgeries on what was billed as our “set up day”. Looking ahead to the end of this week, we celebrate the 450-500 patients who are having their vision restored as well as the trainees who are empowered to pass on their expertise to the next generations of upcoming surgeons and clinicians. We plan to grow and promote this model of combining scalable campaigns to alleviate blindness with valuable training that enhance long-term development and sustainability of eye care in areas of the world that need it most.
Image on top: Dr. Adam Jorgensen from the U.S. teaches glaucoma drainage implant surgery to interested resident surgeon