Wednesday, May 27, 2009

IEF visits KCCO in Tanzania

A group of IEF Board members and friends had our "eyes opened" at the Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology (KCCO) in March 2009. IEF helped establish KCCO in Moshi, Tanzania seven year ago. Founders and co-directors, Dr. Paul Courtright and his wife Dr. Susan Lewallen have worked with IEF for over 20 years. We sent Susan, an ophthalmologist, to provide eye care on the island of St. Kitts for a year in the 1980's, and Paul and Susan were IEF's co-Country Directors in Malawi from 1990-1995. They are two of the most experienced professionals in the global eye care community!

The KCCO staff described their strategies for reducing blindness from cataract and other diseases threatening the sight of Africans. It was hot and humid in Moshi and an afternoon thunderstorm knocked out the electricity for a while until the generators kicked in. All part of the challenges of living and working in rural Africa. The staff carried on and explained their strategies to reach people living in remote villages who can't get to hospital for eye care. Next door to KCCO is the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC). We toured the eye clinic and watched Dr. Anthony Hall, Director of the Eye Department, perform cataract surgery. Amazing!

The next day, we went with the KCCO outreach team to Mwika Village on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was a foggy morning and chilly at 6,000 feet up the mountain, but green and lush and the air was clear and sweet. The flame trees, bouganvilla and a myriad of tropical flowers were in full bloom - almost heaven. When the sun came out and warmed us up, we could see down into the vast valleys below. The team set up the vision and exam stations and over 250 people, elderly men and women, and children of all ages and their parents, came to get their eyes examined! School children in their brown, blue and green uniforms depending on their school, were excited to get their eyes checked. Many suffered from allergies and were treated right away, and some needed glasses which they received on the spot. Mary, a village elder in her 80's and dressed in a colorful sweater and "kanga" cloth, was one of the most memorable. She arrived late having walked a few kilometers with her stick and reached out to greet us with a hug and a big smile. She complained of poor eye sight although you'd never know it. It was clear that she is a tough old lady, and had lived a healthy life. Mary was diagnosed with cataract and was one of 13 who were transported back to KCMC that day for cataract surgery. With a new intra-oclular lens, Mary and the others were transported back to a clearer and brighter Mwika to return to their families with new vision for the future. It was a successful day and a most rewarding visit!

Victoria M. Sheffield

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