Thursday, October 8, 2009

World Sight Day

Today is World Sight Day. This is an article I wrote last week about Dr. Glenn Strauss who is currently training several eye surgeons in Benin.

Ophthalmic Surgical Training in Benin

In Vision 2020, a global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness, the World Health Organization states, “Reducing the backlog of cataract-blind mainly requires training ophthalmic personnel, strengthening the existing health care infrastructure and the provision of surgical supplies.”

Cataracts, although they can be removed by a 10-minute low-cost operation, are responsible for half of all blindness in Africa. Since February, the Mercy Ships Vision Team has performed more than 2,600 cataract removal surgeries. However, while understanding the value of providing relief to an immediate need, Mercy Ships recognizes the more sustainable impact which can be achieved by strengthening the local health care community. In agreement with the Vision 2020 goals, throughout the 2009 Field Service in Benin, Mercy Ships Senior Vice President of Health Care Initiatives and ophthalmic surgeon, Dr. Glenn Strauss, has been overseeing the training of five Beninese ophthalmic surgeons.

“When we first arrived in Benin, I was offered the opportunity to speak at the Benin Ophthalmology Group,” said Dr. Glenn Strauss. “During that presentation, I suggested they consider selecting some of their members to come for training in a sutureless technique I use to remove cataracts. Dr. Doutetien, one of the local surgeons, was the chairman of the group. Four or five minutes after making the announcement, she raised her hand and said, ‘Yes, we are ready to do this.’ ”

Since March, Dr. Glenn Strauss has been teaching the surgeons an innovative, low-cost, high-quality technique for cataract removal, which he has developed through years of performing cataract surgery in West Africa.

“We are using this opportunity from Mercy Ships to learn new methods for cataract removal,” said Beninese surgeon, Dr. Doutetien. “In Benin, when we operated on cataracts, we had to suture the eye. But Dr. Strauss has taught us a method that requires no suturing. This new method is very quick and less expensive, which has been very helpful.”

Before the Africa Mercy leaves Benin, each surgeon will have performed at least 30 to 40 surgical cases under Dr. Strauss’ mentorship. Trainees work with Dr. Strauss two days per week, both onboard the Africa Mercy and at their local hospitals.

“It’s a very hands-on type of mentoring process. Rather than just explaining things and having the trainees perform the procedure on their own, I sit right next to them, shoulder to shoulder, to accomplish this transfer of skills. I think it really works well in this context,” said Dr. Strauss.
The trainees are already using the new technique at local hospitals and sharing their knowledge with other surgeons.

“Part of the original agreement was that surgeons selected to receive training would share the information with the local ophthalmic community,” said Dr. Strauss. “I did not want to teach people that would keep the information to themselves.”

Dr. Doutetien is eager to share the knowledge she has gained under Dr. Strauss’ mentorship.
“I am going to take what I have learned through Mercy Ships and share it with other doctors. I plan on teaching many doctors; it will become the method we use in Benin. I appreciate that Dr. Strauss took the time to teach us,” said Dr. Doutetien.

The cataract training that surgeons have received has the potential to revolutionize eye care in Benin. Utilizing Dr. Strauss’ sutureless technique, vision will continue to be restored to thousands long after the Africa Mercy leaves Benin.

“The mentoring program we’re doing is intended to leave a lasting footprint in Benin,” said Dr. Strauss. “Already, they are implementing this at local hospitals. They are performing the procedure on their own and running a self-led cataract project here in Benin. It’s great to do cataract surgery, but it’s even more exciting that surgeons who have received this training will be able to carry on the vision of restoring sight. I expect this will make a long-lasting impact.”

As part of the Vision 2020 global initiative, October 8th is World Sight Day, an annual day of awareness held to focus global attention on blindness and vision impairment. Mercy Ships is proud to join with organizations around the world in the battle against preventable blindness.

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