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“My one true passion is practicing ophthalmology and thus I get the most joy and fulfillment when I am able to make interventions to improve the lives of my patients by improving or restoring their eyesight”
Of all of the challenges we must overcome in halting and eventually reducing the rising backlog of cataract blindness in the developing world, one of the most formidable is the dire shortage of properly-trained ophthalmologists and eye care teams. HCP addresses this issue by conducting skills transfer programs to provide training for eye care personnel at all levels and disciplines. To date, we have provided 89 training opportunities for ophthalmic professionals from Ghana, and we continue to grow this number each year. One such training success story is Dr. Akwasi Ahmed, an ophthalmologist at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) Eye Unit, in Kumasi, Ghana.
Dr. Akwasi was born in Accra, attended boarding school in Kumasi and furthered his education at the prestigious Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi where he studied medicine. His parlay into ophthalmology was unplanned.
“I entered into the field of ophthalmology totally by chance or maybe by divine intervention. It all began when I finished my two year internship after medical school, with no clear path on what specialization I wanted to pursue. The medical director of the hospital at time, a good friend of mine, encouraged me to work as a general practitioner in the [KATH] eye unit; to help me decide if it would be an area for me to pursue speciality training.
Shortly after joining the [KATH] eye unit, I quickly realized there was a greater need for infrastructure and personnel there - in comparison to patient attendance in the general clinic. Also what struck me was the dedication of the staff to provide the best care for hundreds of patients that attended the eye unit daily.
I observed how patients needed assistance to walk into surgery because they were blind from bilateral cataracts, but then walked out of the clinic by themselves without any assistance the very next day because their blindness was cured. I witnessed the smiles on the faces of family members who saw their loved ones see again for the first time in years; I learned how the intervention of cataract surgery improved the lives of rural populations by putting breadwinners back into the workforce and so many other positive effects on families.
Another factor that led to my choice to become an ophthalmologist was the encouragement, mentorship and coaching by many doctors in the eye unit especially Drs. Seth Lartey, Peter Osei-Bonsu and Doreen Frempong. Through guidance of these great doctors, my interest and love in the specialty grew - and the desire to make an impact and help make a difference in eye-care was nurtured.”
Dr. Akwasi was first introduced to HCP through his time at the KATH Eye Unit during his residency training.
“There was a clear presence of support from HCP from my start at the KATH Eye Unit. HCP was already deeply invested in helping to develop eye care services at KATH by supporting cataract outreaches, facilitating the training of ophthalmic staff at all levels and providing equipment to the Eye Unit.
HCP was also instrumental in the construction of the current ultramodern building which currently houses the eye unit, with the help of USAID’s Office of American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (USAID/ASHA). The investments from HCP and USAID/ASHA have revolutionized eyecare at KATH, which is the second biggest teaching hospital in the country, also serving as a referral point for eye cases in the central and some northern parts of Ghana.”
With HCP support, Dr. Akwasi is currently pursuing a Vitreo-retinal Fellowship at the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Kathmandu, Nepal.
“During my residency at KATH, I developed a love for retina and desired an opportunity to pursue a sub-specialty in vitreo-retina after completion. This was fueled further by the fact that the eye unit did not have a vitreo-retinal surgeon and so most of our retina patients, mainly poor individuals who needed surgical intervention, had to be referred to private eye hospitals for treatment. Most did not make it to their procedures due to distance, and the few who did couldn’t proceed with the operation due to the cost.
In 2015, I met HCP’s former International Fellow, Dr. Anna Gushchin during a visit to KATH and I expressed my interest in retina. She sent a wonderful recommendation letter to HCP to support my retina training. Through this recommendation, I had the opportunity to do an observership in the retina unit at the Moran Eye Centre in Salt Lake City, Utah where I trained with Professor Paul Bernstein and many other Retina Specialists.”
A self described, “man of many roles,” ophthalmology is just one of his passions.
“Outside medicine I loved learning about business, which led me to pursue an a Masters in Business Administration, graduating in 2014 from the KNUST School of Business. My other hobbies include practicing Taekwondo and playing Lawn tennis - but my one true passion is practicing ophthalmology. I get the most joy and fulfillment when I am able to make interventions to improve the lives of my patients by improving or restoring their eyesight. While cherishing every opportunity to spend time with my wife Eunice, daughter Elsa and son Kwaku.”
An integral piece of HCP's overall mission is to strengthen ophthalmology education programs within the countries we work. We accomplish this by providing education and training opportunities to produce highly-skilled and trained doctors, like Dr. Akwasi, to meet the demands of eye care needs in their countries.
*Dr. Akwasi's five-month fellowship at Tilganga was funded by a scholarship from The Alcon Foundation.*