From Mumbai to Ethiopia

Dr Akshay Nair lecturing at Hawassa.
Dr Akshay Nair lecturing at Hawassa.

To train ophthalmologists in Ethiopia, a vocational training team (VTT) sponsored by Rotary Club of Bombay Chembur West (RCBCW), District 3140, was sent to the ­African country in March. “The objective was ­capacity building in Ophthalmology,” said President S R ­Balasubramanian. This is the silver jubilee year of the club.

The team comprised three super-specialists in ophthalmology, led by Rtn Dr Haresh Asnani, a Vitreo-retinal surgeon. The others included Dr Atul Seth, Paediatric Ophthalmologist and Squint Specialist and Dr Akshay Nair, Oculoplastic Surgeon and Ocular Oncologist. Beyond Eye Care, an organisation that manages the OIA’s (Overseas Infrastructure Alliance) India Eye Care Centre in Addis Ababa, and RCBCW co-conceptualised the project to make up for the shortfall in trained eye specialists in Ethiopia.

A surgery in progress and a learning process for the African doctors.
A surgery in progress and a learning process for the African doctors.

Elaborating on the scenario of ophthalmic care in Ethiopia, Dr Asnani said that the doctors were knowledgeable theoretically but lacked exposure to ­practical ­knowhow and surgical skills. Quantifying the VTT’s success he said, “everything will depend on how Rotary clubs in Addis Ababa, ­Ethiopian Health Ministry and the direct ­beneficiaries, i.e., the ­ophthalmologists themselves pick up the baton and carry on from here. There is a big vacuum in their ­super-specialty training and exposure, which can be filled by us Rotarians in District 3140. In fact, the Indian Embassy in Addis Ababa is also ready to grant scholarships to those who are willing to come to India and specialise in this field.” Around 300 scholarships are available in various fields, and just half of this is only utilised; lack of awareness is the reason. “We have asked Rotarians there to popularise this scheme so that more students can benefit from it,” he said.

In consultation with the Ministry of Health and Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration and Control Authority of Ethiopia (FMHACA), a detailed programme was charted out for the team, which included medical education programmes, clinic workshops, video assisted surgical skills transfer and the topics covered were common retinal disorders, diabetic retinopathy and screening, age-related macular degeneration, common eyelid disorders and tumours, disorders of the lacrimal sac, paediatric and adult squint, amblyopia management and visual rehabilitation in children.

The VTT members along with the local ophthalmology professionals at India Eye Care Centre, Addis Ababa.
The VTT members along with the local ophthalmology
professionals at India Eye Care Centre, Addis Ababa.

Dr Seth said, “We noticed a lot of expensive donated equipment lying unused since the doctors and paramedical staffs were not taught the handling and maintenance protocols of these. We taught them how to handle such equipment.” The team sensitised local doctors that timely intervention in childhood squints, eye tumours and childhood cataract can go a long way in preventing complications later.

Fourteen ophthalmologists, 25 postgraduate students, 40 optometrists and 20 ophthalmic nurses were trained over five teaching sessions, five surgical workshops and six clinical demonstration sessions.

Dr Nair said, “The whole experience was extremely rewarding: we were able to demonstrate many different surgical procedures and held fruitful clinical sessions and video assisted skill transfer sessions. The demand and need for ocular oncology and oculoplastic specialists is high in Ethiopia and the next step is to facilitate training opportunities in India for Ethiopian ophthalmologists.”

A lot of expensive donated equipment were lying unused since the doctors and paramedics lacked the knowhow.

The aim of the programme was not just to impact the level of ophthalmology and patient care but also to build bridges and facilitate lasting bonds mutually beneficial to the ophthalmologists and the local community. The team had discussions with the respective hospital managements to draw up strategy to sustain the benefits of this programme, especially at St. Paul’s and ALERT Hospitals and Hawassa University by facilitating fellowship programmes for their doctors and providing technical support for their surgical equipment.

Rtn Suhas B Naik-Satam
District Chair – Bulletin & Public Image, RI District 3140

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