Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tribute to Dr. Moses Chirambo, Malawi

Mrs. Ellen Chirambo and Family:

We were shocked and saddened by the passing of our dear friend and colleague Prof. Moses Chirambo. He was a wonderful ophthalmologist, distinguished colleague, strong leader and great friend. As the first Malawian ophthalmologist, he has made a huge impact on Malawi, and his lasting legacy is the eye care service we see today, built from nearly nothing thanks to his leadership.

Moses and I watched each other get older and greyer and laughed about it when we met at international conferences around the world. We laughed when we realized we both colored our hair and I suddenly knew his secret of never seeming to change. I remember in the 1980’s when I was tired of hotel food, Moses took me home for lunch to your wonderful msima and stew. What a joy you all brought to my life!

The International Eye Foundation (IEF) first gave Moses a grant in 1975 to get his clinic started. Thus began IEF’s long history in Malawi. In 1980, IEF and the WHO co-sponsored a workshop on prevention of blindness at the Capital Hotel in Lilongwe. Moses’ leadership shone a light on Malawi and the SADC region even 30 years ago.

I remember when IEF started the OMA Training Program in 1980. And when there was no ophthalmologist at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre, Moses asked IEF to post ophthalmologists there which we did for 15 years until 1995. Drs. Larry Schwab, Paul Steinkuller, Baxter McLendon, Teferra Tizazu, Gabriella Bar, Paul Courtright and Susan Lewallen all lived and worked in Malawi for 3-4 years until a Malawian ophthalmologist could be trained and posted there. He knew he could not do it alone and he made plans for Malawi’s future in ophthalmology.

Over the last 20 years as IEF developed vitamin A/child survival programs in Chikwawa and Nsanje, and the onchocerciasis (river blindness) control program in the Thyolo Highlands, Moses pushed us forward because he knew how devastating these diseases were on Malawians, especially the children. In 2000 as we invested in sustainability programming and optical services at the eye hospitals in Lilongwe and Blantyre, Moses cleared the path because he understood the importance of reducing the eye hospitals’ dependence on outside support and strengthening their own capacity.

Moses’ election to Parliament and his service as Minister of Health are a testament to his dedication and love for Malawi. It’s hard to imagine Malawi without Moses. As one of our colleagues said, we have lost one of the founding fathers of African ophthalmology.

John Barrows, our Director of Programs and Ed Henderson, our Director of Finance and Administration as well as former IEFers lived in Malawi working with Peace Corps and other development NGOs. Malawi is strong in IEF’s history and Moses will always be part of our IEF family.

Moses was a mentor, friend to all, and someone who will be sorely missed. In fact, he was a national treasure. I know that Malawians will celebrate his life. Thank you Nyaka for sharing him with us all these years. Your sacrifice made his success possible.

On behalf of the Board of Directors and worldwide staff of the International Eye Foundation, I say God bless Prof. Chirambo and God bless you Ellen and your family.

Victoria M. Sheffield

President & CEO

Photo above: IEFers who have worked in Malawi with Dr. Chirambo. L to R: Dr. Paul Steinkuller, Dr. Susan Lewallen, Prof. Moses Chirambo, Dr. Shmuel Levine, Dr. Baxter McLendon, Ms. Victoria Sheffield, Dr .Larry Schwab, Mr. John Barrows.

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