Dr Abram Wodome was working as a surgeon in an eye hospital in Togo, West Africa’s capital city Lomé, in 2010 — and he was looking for a way out.
He overcame enormous hurdles growing up in a busy household of 16 children, the Wodome family was supported and cared for by their hardworking carpenter father and fish seller mother. Years later, having qualified as a specialist, Dr Wodome believed his best chance of a successful future was to save enough money to move to the west.
A chance encounter with a Mercy Ships eye surgeon changed everything. After a series of events he attributes as divine, Dr Wodome found himself walking up the gangway of the Africa Mercy for the first time, ready to join the Mercy Ships ophthalmic surgical training program.
“I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration with Mercy Ships — one that would change my career and the lives of thousands of people.”
Through months of intensive training, Dr Wodome mastered a new, complex cataract surgical procedure known as the Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery (MSICS) method. This cost-effective technique is uniquely suited to low-income countries — and through the medical capacity building program on board, Dr Wodome learned to perform the procedure – and even more crucially – how to teach it to his surgical colleagues.
Dr Wodome received more than just a fresh perspective on a new medical procedure; the mentoring programme renewed his sense of purpose and potential — and transformed the way he saw his own life calling: “I began to see clearly that I had something to do there in Africa … that God had given me a role to play in the fight against cataract blindness in Togo — and that change was really possible.”
Instead of longing to live overseas, Dr Wodome became passionate about changing lives right there in Wst Africa.
Putting training to the test
In the years after he learned the new method for cataract surgery, Dr Wodome has lived up to his calling — although it has not been without its obstacles. Many barriers stood between him and his newfound vision for his country. Chief among these were inadequate teaching equipment, limited surgical supplies, and financially-strapped patients unable to pay for surgery.
The return of the Africa Mercy to Togo in 2012 bought a fresh wave of hope and hands-on help. Mercy Ships staff, including eye surgeon Dr Glenn Strauss, supported Dr Wodome to find creative solutions to every challenge. This included donating extensive medical equipment to increase surgical capabilities, as well as connecting him with the resources and means to begin a charity and an eye clinic. After getting his facilities off the ground and accumulating all the tools needed to perform effective surgery, Dr Wodome was ready to put the techniques he had learned on board to the test.
By 2017, Dr Wodome’s annual cataract surgeries had quadrupled and represented almost half of Togo’s total ophthalmic surgeries. He continued training other local medical professionals in the same MSICS procedure he’d learned from Mercy Ships. As of 2020, more than 30 ophthalmologists across Togo and Benin have benefited from his program.
Dr Wodome’s clinic, Clinique Ophtalmologique Lumière Divine (COLD), became the premier private clinic for cataract surgeries in the country, performing more than 750 cataract surgeries each year. In a continued spirit of humility and humanitarian care, he uses a large portion of the clinic’s profits to fund his own charity venture. By 2020, the clinic has provided free and dramatically reduced cost cataract surgeries to more than 2,000 people.
In 2021, however, Mercy Ships and Dr Wodome are partnering again to make safe, quality cataract surgery in Togo more accessible than ever before.
Strengthening surgeon training
While Dr Wodome’s training outcomes have been largely successful, limited time and resource mean only a certain number of participants can receive training. In response to these limitations, Dr Wodome proposed to enhance the training opportunities by setting up an MSICS Teaching Institute at his NGO’s ophthalmology clinic, COLD. The program will streamline his training and give participants access to higher quality resources to both practice and perform surgery.
Through the Institute, it is Dr Wodome’s hope to see improved quality of ophthalmic care in cataract blindness, by facilitating up to 4,000 additional surgeries each year.
Mercy Ships is committed to coming alongside Dr Wodome to make this vision a reality. In order to support the program over a three-year period, we will be funding training costs for 18 participants, donating essential teaching equipment, and contributing to training remotely.
Mercy Ships medical capacity building program creates an invaluable opportunity to partner with government officials and local surgeons in the countries we visit. For more than 30 years, Mercy Ships has collaborated with some of the most driven, dedicated, and talented healthcare professionals across Africa. It is our honour to introduce you to these Heroes of Healthcare, including Togo’s leading ophthalmic surgeon, Dr Abram Wodome.
Leaving a lasting legacy in Togo
More than a decade has passed since Dr Wodome and Mercy Ships first worked together. Due to hands-on training and continued assistance, the MSICS method has become the standard cataract surgical procedure in Togo. Thousands of lives have been changed as a result — and the ripple effects aren’t slowing down any time soon.
Ready to discover how your skills and experience can make a difference in Africa? It’s a big team that makes mercy happen!