Apr 02, 2007 6:00 PM

A Decade of Eye Care Missions in Africa Utah Ophthalmologists Continue Tradition of Journeys to Ghana

SALT LAKE CITY--For the past ten years, ophthalmologists from the University of Utah Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences have been traveling to Ghana, West Africa to provide life-changing and often life-saving eye surgery. Their journeys take them to a country that has less than 50 ophthalmologists and a population of 22 million people.

Drs. Alan Crandall, Robert Hoffman and Geoff Tabin, and mission team members began their latest journey on March 29th. Their days often begin with an eye clinic from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. followed by nonstop surgeries that continue until midnight. Over the years they have helped more than 2,000 people improve or regain their sight.

"Most people in the United States who develop cataracts have them quickly removed and replaced with new lenses," says Dr. Crandall, on his tenth consecutive African mission. "In Ghana 750,000 people are waiting for cataract surgery and the majority of them are blind. It's an honor to have helped so many people in West Africa, yet we can only put a small dent in this problem. We believe the future of eye care services in developing countries lies in training ophthalmologists and other health care workers within the local community."

Dr. Tabin explains the need for establishing a sustainable eye care infrastructure in countries where medical care is scarce: "Individuals in Ghana develop blinding cataracts as a result of exposure to constant ultra violet light, toxins, and more - often at a young age. Without surgery, many lose their sight. It is common for the blind to be shunned as non-productive members of society. Left to fend for themselves, they commonly die an early and tragic death as a result of starvation, disease and accidents. To people in this region, the miracle of modern cataract surgery means not only a restoration of sight, but also the gift of life."

Dr. Hoffman describes the situation he will face: "My role will be to teach the local ophthalmologists and residents what they need to know to evaluate children's eyes and to treat common disorders that affect children's eyes such as strabismus, amblyopia, significant refractive error, retinoblastoma. We also deal with issues pertinent to their local area such as parasitic and infectious diseases. Another area of focus is on neonatal eye disease. We plan to bring one of their ophthalmologists here for a visiting international fellowship as one more step in bringing quality eye care to the children of Ghana."

Team members of the Ghana mission donate their time and pay for their own travel and expenses. Donations of equipment and supplies are provided by the Moran Eye Center, The Eye Institute of Utah, Alcon, Allergan, AMO, Bausch & Lomb, the Himalayan Cataract Project and Becton-Dickinson.

For more information, interviews and photos, please contact Steve Brown, Communications Manager, Moran Eye Center, 801/587-7693, steven.brown@hsc.utah.edu.