Ethiopia is often referred to as the “cradle of civilization” because it is widely believed to have been the origin of the human race. Today, it is home to over 80 million people and has the largest economy in East and Central Africa. Despite this, 30% of the population lives below the International poverty line and 85% of the population live in rural areas.
There are fewer than 100 qualified eye doctors in Ethiopia with the majority located in the capital city and the biggest towns. Consequently, there are only 15-20 eye doctors serving the remaining 70 million people. It is estimated that more than 1.2 million Ethiopians are blind and that half of those people are blind from cataracts.
“That is a huge number and it is just terrible,” said Dr. Tandon. “Cataracts are a reversible condition, something that can be fixed. They just need to have access to eye care and cataract surgery.”
With this in mind, Dr. Tandon, along with current ophthalmology resident Kristen Burwick, MD, recently traveled to Ethiopia to perform much-needed cataract surgeries. Because of the rural conditions and lack of supplies, they had to perform extracapsular cataract surgery (removal of the cataract in one piece) instead of the more modern phacoemulsification (the cataract is broken into tiny pieces using sound waves and is removed using suction).
“It is the old-fashioned way to do it,” said Dr. Tandon, “but it still works. We were able to perform about 70 surgeries in a week.”
Dr. Tandon and Dr. Burwick were also able to spend time with residents and faculty of a newly established residency program. The program, which is just three years old, is getting ready to graduate its first class. They are very open to having visiting ophthalmologists teach, lecture, and demonstrate western medical techniques.
“They are very eager to learn and pass it on to their residents,” said Dr. Burwick. “They need education so badly. They are also very dependent on outside people for any type of supplies.”
With the successful trip now behind him, Dr. Tandon is making plans to return and do more to help.
“We went to help do cataract surgeries,” said Dr. Tandon. “But, we also wanted to learn what is needed there and to see how they practice medicine. The plan for the future is to go back, to take supplies, and to teach them how to do phaco surgery. That way they can be more efficient, see more patients, and help more people.”
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