: Stories from Togo
Something sparked inside Dr Abram Wodomé when he first stepped into the ophthalmic operating theatre on board a Mercy Ship in 2010. He sensed a whole new hope for his country was born when he learned a new cataract surgical technique – and it has indeed become revolutionary in Togo, Wset Africa.
A decade later, the spark has become a fire. In 2021, Dr Wodomé partnered with Mercy Ships to launch a new cataract surgical training program that will teach other surgeons the same method he first learned onboard. Over the course of three years, Dr Wodomé plans to train 18 ophthalmologists and provide an extra 4,000 free ophthalmic surgeries.
But it doesn’t end there. His students will also learn how to teach others so they can return to their hospitals and train many more surgeons in the method. These are two of the recent trainees…
Dr Harry Nkok
Dr Harry Nkok, from Cameroon, was a pioneer student at the training institute. It was so successful, Dr Harry was immediately offered a permanent position as the clinic’s ophthalmologist.
“It is formative,” says Dr Harry of the training. “It is a necessity. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be a good programme. Nothing is easy here.”
Dr Harry says the programme’s biggest benefit is simple: The fact that it exists. “Elsewhere, there is not even a training program. We are trained on the job because there are no materials and there are no qualified trainers like Dr Wodomé. There is no comparison to make.”
Dr Wodomé’s surgical method is vitally important, Dr Harry says, because it can be done anywhere and at a low cost.
“For our people who do not have enough income, this is the best technique. There are no other alternatives. It has a great impact on the quality of care that we can provide to the population. It is priceless.”
He believes that having more qualified surgeons will enhance access to surgery everywhere. “The most disadvantaged people are the ones who need it most. And unfortunately, they don’t always have the means to afford surgery. The impact [of the training] will be enormous, not only in Togo but in the subregion. Everyone will benefit from this and the people will be helped more.”
Dr Dalia Zonvide
Dr Dalia Zonvide has been a surgeon for years. But whenever cataract patients came to her clinic, she had to refer them to other colleagues. Ophthalmic surgery had never been her skill set – until now.
“I have already learned to have some confidence in myself. I perfected the little knowledge I had, I perfected anesthesia. I learned a lot in such a short time, and so I guess that before the end of the training, I will be really well trained.”
Dr Dalia is excited to offer better care to patients with cataracts. She wants to extend her practice beyond the capital city of Lomé into the country’s interior.
“We have noticed that in our environment there is a lack of means, so patients do not necessarily come to the doctors. If I master this surgery, I could go to them. When I am really ready, I will be able to continue these surgeries myself to impact more people and decrease the number of visually impaired people around me.”
As the newest student, Dr Dalia knows she’s got a lot to learn. But she feels she is in the best possible hands.
“I had many teachers during my training but Dr Wodomé, he’s different from any teacher I’ve ever had. He has the patience to show you from start to finish the different steps of this surgery. Even when you know you are not doing well, he is always there to encourage you.”
Like Dr Harry, she’s caught a vision for seeing eye care in Togo transformed for good.
“I believe that more and more people are interested in eye training in Togo. If we continue this path, we will be able to reach some goals that we did not reach before. There is a lack of staff, a lack of equipment, a lack of technical facilities… but with the help of trainers like Dr Wodomé, there is hope.”
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