Aug 6, 2020

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Ethiopia

This past week a HCP Affiliated Ophthalmologist, Dr. H, arranged a second shipment of HCP-supported personal protective equipment (PPE) from Israel to Ethiopia for distribution to HCP partner hospitals

As in many parts of the world, PPE is in short supply and this shipment will help partners to provide emergency care as needed in the safest manner possible. Dr. H is the Director of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Shamir Medical Center in Israel. Together with his family, he has provided training, eye glasses and basic eye care services, both by directly supporting surgery and training, and helping thousands of Ethiopians over the past six years, often at his own expense.

In 2014, Dr. H’s 12-year-old son was researching places for the family to visit on vacation and discovered the Jewish community in Gondar, Ethiopia. Dr. H was able to connect with HCP Ethiopian partners as well Meseret Fantahun through HCP's co-founder. Initially, the family just planned to learn more about the community in Gondar, but when they learned that Dr. H was an eye doctor, a crowd of people gathered for him to provide screening and basic eye care. He returned to Addis and worked with another doctor who invited the family back to dinner at his house. It was there that Dr. H and his family developed a love for Ethiopian food.

The following year, Dr. H obtained a medical license to work in Ethiopia through HCP and returned with his wife and four children to set up an eye clinic in the Jewish community of Gondar. They brought reading glasses, eye drops and other supplies, treating hundreds of people with a variety of eye problems. With Dr. Yared at Gondar University Teaching Hospital, Dr. H set up a medical resident exchange program with his hospital in Israel. Since 2015, he has trained 15 residents with support from HCP and Light For The World, an Austrian NGO. Dr. H has also helped arrange HCP-sponsored sub-specialty training in Israel, including fellowships in pediatrics, cornea and oculo-plastics.

Dr. H’s work with Ethiopia has been facilitated by an Ethiopian-Israeli who helped to start work with first resident trainee during his stay in Israel. Dr. H also provides eye care services to both Jewish and non-Jewish communities around Gondar, including Azezo and a first-ever outreach in Negusi’s hometown of Kola Diba. There, Dr. H helped provide over 200 sight-restoring cataract surgeries, trachoma surgeries, and 400 pairs of eyeglasses.

Over the past six years, Dr. H has examined over 6,000 Ethiopian patients and provided over 1,000 pairs of eyeglasses to those in need. Now, with several of his trainees working back in Ethiopia, he is receiving more requests to provide additional training and support at hospitals in Gondar, Aksum, Awasa and Adama, among others. In fact, most HCP partner hospitals will benefit from Dr. H’s work over the next few weeks as they receive masks, face shields, gloves and other PPE to fight the spread of COVID-19

HCP thanks Dr. H and his family for all they have done to help bring the joy of sight restoration to those who need it most.

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Aug 5, 2020

Sight-Restoring Surgeries Have Resumed in Bhutan

Bhutan Outreach 2020
Bhutan Outreach 2020

Thanks to so many of you, Himalayan Cataract Project is able to support our partners in Bhutan as they resume eye care and surgical outreach.

As with most of the countries where HCP works, Bhutan suspended all but emergency eye care at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This meant thousands of Bhutanese waiting to regain their sight had to wait even longer.

By virtue of its isolation, Bhutan has had a low incidence of COVID-19 cases and has had no virus-related deaths. With safety precautions in place, our partners in Bhutan are resuming cataract surgeries slowly and carefully, attending to patients in smaller numbers to reduce the risk of infection to patients and providers.

Two outreaches were held simultaneously during the second week in June:

---Tsirang Hospital (central Bhutan - 41 Total Surgeries)
---Lhuentse Hospital (eastern Bhutan - 16 total surgeries)

Because of you, 57 grateful people may now resume their lives, work and care for their families free of the burden of blindness. Many more will follow. Additional outreach events at Trongsa Hospital and Tashigang will take place in July, and in Phuntsholing later this year.

It is the goal of our partners in Bhutan that all 20 districts in the country will have an eye camp providing cataract surgical services by December. They anticipate completing 760cataract surgeries over 13 outreach events by the end of 2020.

You provide hope to so many needlessly blind people waiting to regain their sight. Thank you for your commitment to the people of Bhutan, and for empowering our partners to adapt and succeed in a changing global healthcare landscape.

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Aug 5, 2020

Two Buckeyes Building Ophthalmic Capacity in Ghana

After exchanging hearty hellos and hugs with ophthalmologist friends old and new, Drs. John Pajka and Amit Tandon, jump into their scrubs, stroll cautiously into their respective surgical theaters, fist bump their ophthalmic nursing teams and carefully inspect the operation of their surgical microscopes.

Here at the Korle Bu Training Hospital in Accra, Ghana, they will spend the week training senior HCP supported surgical staff, Dr. Gladys Fordjour, Dr Dziffa Ofori-Adjei, Dr Adam Yakubu (Head of the Ophthalmology Dept.) and a group of surgical residents. Their shared goal for the week is to provide hands-on instruction and training in the latest phacoemulsification surgery techniques — the most technologically current and least invasive approach to cataract removal and sight correction.

Dr. Pajka and Dr. Tandon recently met and worked together for the first time in Ghana, but the two share such similar backgrounds, it’s almost odd their paths have never crossed before. Both doctors were drawn to global outreach medicine and they each pursued their passion for ophthalmology and surgery at The Wexner Medical Center at OSU. While of a different generation of Lasik and phaco surgeons in Ohio, both are die hard and talented Buckeyes — a tie that binds them through and through.

What they didn’t know until meeting this week, is that each has done numerous humanitarian eye surgery training outreaches in remote locations worldwide: Dr Tandon, an active member of the OSU global outreach project, has worked primarily in Haiti. Dr Pajka, a long time HCP volunteer and veteran of more than 50 outreach trips, has plied his trade as volunteer cataract surgeon and trainer in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, Uzbekistan, Honduras, Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru and Costa Rica.

Both doctors had been a mentor to HCP Medical Coordinator for Ghana, Dr. John Welling while he was in residency at OSU and before becoming an international fellow at the Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah, with HCP Co-founder, Dr Geoffrey Tabin (now at Stanford). Dr. Welling has been working with HCP staff to mentor Ghanaian eye surgeons via high volume surgical campaigns and national eye care system development though a collaborative effort with Ghana Health Services known as the National Cataract Outreach Program (NCOP). In fact, it was Dr. Welling who ultimately helped connect the two doctors to coordinate the training in Ghana.

“Dr Tandon has always been on the forefront of surgical techniques and technology,” Dr. Welling said. “When I was a resident under his mentorship, Dr Tandon taught me the phaco chop technique that I still use in practice today. Dr Tandon has provided humanitarian training and eye care on numerous international trips. This is his first time working with HCP as a phaco trainer. We hope it will be the first of many.”

Professional coincidences aside, Dr Pajka and Dr. Tandon both love to teach eye surgeons in under resourced countries, who are on the same path to excellence.

“It was such an intricate, precise surgery. I thought it was truly amazing.” Dr Tandon said, reflecting on what attracted him to the field after watching an ophthalmologist perform cataract surgery during medical school. “The next day was even better. When the eye patch was removed, the patient could see again. It was life-changing for that patient. I knew I could do this for the rest of my life.”

Dr. Tandon’s sense of awe at the impact cataract surgery continues to drive his passion to practice (he performs 1,500 cataract annually in his practice in Columbus) and to teach others in under resourced countries with high incidences of cataract blindness.

“In my clinic, we really try to connect with every patient.” Tandon said. “Imparting a supportive bedside manner that emphasizes the importance of connecting with patients is part of what I believe is crucial in teaching others to become a truly good surgeon.”

When I asked Dr. Tandon what he appreciates most about Dr. Pajka (aside from his legendary humor and approachability) he asks,”How does the saying go? What John has forgotten about eye surgery is probably more than I’ve learned after 15 years of practice?” The respect and recognition Dr. Pajka garnered as a senior practitioner, was evident throughout his week at Korle Bu

Having practiced in his native state of Ohio for more than 30 years, Dr. Pajka has achieved many state wide firsts in his field. He was the first to bring Lasik surgery to Ohio, the first to do a corneal transplant, the first to do surgical lens implantation and the first in The Buckeye State to do eye surgery with no anaesthesia or stitches.

“Dr. Pajka is universally loved and admired by the trainees - both for his skills as a surgeon and his patient, compassionate approach as a mentor and teacher,” Dr. Welling said. “We are extremely fortunate to have Dr Pajka as one of our HCP master trainers.”

What inspires Dr. Pajka to commit weeks of his time every year to provide training in countries, working hard to create sustainable systems of eye care?

“Traveling to share what I know about surgery and eye care has provided the opportunity to meet people in places that I could only have imagined as a kid growing up,” Dr. Pajka said. “The gifts of gratitude I’ve received from people whose sight I’ve helped restore or improve, are far greater than I could ever imagine.”

HCP began its partnership with Korle Bu Training Hospital in 2017 to strengthen its ophthalmic capacity by providing specialized training opportunities to its eye care personnel; supporting outreach efforts and providing supplies and equipment. This particular training was possible in part through donations by HCP Industry partner Alcon for the Infiniti phaco machine and consumables. 

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