Postcards from the Field

Connecting with cataract patients in Ghana

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In late February, early March, Himalayan Cataract Project Chief of Technology & Procurement Bill Shields and Program Manager Leahy Winter made a site visit to the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) in Kumasi, Ghana. The Himalayan Cataract Project has worked with KATH since 2006, establishing an eye care center, providing specialized training opportunities, and supporting outreach cataract events.

The KATH Eye Center serves a catchment area of almost 10 million people with a staff of 29, who between outreach cataract campaigns and patients coming to the hospital, performed 2,424 surgeries last year. They also provide a monthly bus-in service for surgical candidates in the surrounding areas, who are otherwise unable to travel to the eye center on their own. HCP has been awarded three USAID/ASHA grants for the construction of the state-of-the-art facility at KATH, which included the installation of solar panels.

The site visits provide additional hands-on training opportunities. Bill Shields works with biomedical engineers, such as Faustina Adu-Poku at KATH, to ensure that surgical and diagnostic equipment is properly maintained and functioning. In 2015, HCP provided support for Faustina to pursue training in equipment maintenance at the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Nepal. In addition to hands-on training, the staff at KATH participate in weekly telemedicine webinars delivered by ophthalmologists from around the world.

During the visit, Leahy Winter accompanied the KATH surgical team on an outreach cataract event at a local hospital in Krobo Odumasi, in the Eastern Region of Ghana, and was able to talk to some of the patients, whose experiences show how people from every background and of all ages are affected by cataract blindness and how their impairment radically changes their lives and that of their families. These stories also show how simple it can be to restore these people’s lives back to normality, permanently. 

POSTMARK MARCH 2, 2017

I met with Afresanti O. before and after his surgeries: he had bilateral cataracts, so he came in two days in a row, getting one surgery at a time. He arrived with his wife, was blind from both eyes and had to use a walking stick. Afresanti is 63 years old, and before his sight started to blur about two years ago, and eventually going blind one year later, he grew palms and harvested palm oil. He has 11 children; his youngest is now 15 years old, and six grandchildren. His blindness made him unable to work, and the entire farm work fell on his wife: his biggest wish was to regain his eyesight and be able to help once again to provide for their big family. When the doctors removed the bandage from the second eye, and he could see again from both eyes, Aftesanti threw away the walking stick he came with and told me he was ready to go back to his farming business.

Peter T. is a pastor, and being unable to see well was a problem for his job. Before the surgery, he could no longer write or read his sermons on his own and needed help. I met him after his first surgery, and he told me that the first thing he did when he arrived at home without the bandage to read a little bit. Not too much, because he didn’t want to risk and stress the eye. But that already made him jubilant, and he was looking forward to being able to read and write on his own in a few days.

Genet A., an energetic old lady, told me she is 100 years old! She used to go out to the market on her own before her left eye started going blind. The right eye followed shortly after, and since then she hadn’t been able to go out or take care of her house by herself. She told me wished to see her three children be and independent once again.

Janet A. is 72, and up until 3 or 4 months ago, when her vision started to blur, she could easily take care of herself and her house. She is retired and doesn’t have any family, so she still needs to cook and clean on her own, but avoided going out because of her eyes. She lives in Nuasso, a city about half an hour away from Krobo Odumasi. She was diagnosed during the patient screenings before the outreach event and drove to the local hospital by the transport organized by KATH.

Among many adults, I met Godrin N. He is 16 years old, and I met him before his surgery. His cataract started affecting him when he was 10, and since then his mother has had to help him with almost every single everyday activity, including taking him to the hospital, which is a big burden for her. Because of his bilateral cataract, he was also unable to go to school. I met Godrin and his mother again after both surgeries, and they were both incredibly happy. Especially Godrin, who was very excited and motivated to go back to school.

During the outreach event the staff did not only perform cataract surgeries: at the end of the day, they will also treat patients with other kinds of eye conditions. Miriam A., an 18-year-old from Kumasi, was one of them. She came in for Pterygium, for which she had surgery in one eye before, and now needed a second one. The Pterygium manifested when she was very young. Still, she managed to finish high school in Accra, where she lived for a long time with her aunt, who owned a pharmacy. She used to want to become a journalist, but after receiving the first eye surgery, she was so impressed with the work done in hospitals that she decided to work in healthcare and study to become a pharmacist like her aunt. 

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