Building Eye Care Capacity in Haiti, Part Three

January 15, 2022

2 minute read


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When I started working to help the residence at HUEH, I received many warnings that I was wasting effort and the problems were too widespread to help.

There have been many ups and downs along the way, but progress can be made with an excellent team of dedicated professionals and open communication with your partners. Fortunately, I made two trips to Haiti in 2020 before the COVID outbreak, and we returned for three more trips in early 2021 after being vaccinated. We were able to start our retinopathy of prematurity internship with Dr. Shakespeare Saintil, who now screens and treats infants.

Daniel C. Alter

Now, the residence functions well enough without our frequent visits. We’re not done yet, but we hope our success will inspire others in Haiti and other developing countries. Medical students and interns see the improvements, and ophthalmology is the most competitive residency at HUEH. Three of the five highest ranked trainees chose ophthalmology. Historically, there was little interest in ophthalmology because the cost-to-entry barrier and the inability to be trained without equipment were negative.

If there was one suggestion I would make to anyone trying to improve or develop the surgical skills of residents in a setting that struggles to attend to coverage and workload, I would say a microscope for practice wet lab and video capabilities in the operating room so junior residents and nurses can be fully engaged in surgery. Practicing with simulation eyes like those made by Phillips Studio can be used to greatly improve the skills of new surgeons. This is even more important in residences with a low number of cataracts.

People often ask me how to get involved. The simple answer is to donate your time, money, supplies or equipment. Often a balanced mix is ​​best for supporting a specific project as there are likely to be needs in all of these areas. Almost any resource-limited location you visit on one of these trips will be in dire need of gear and supplies, so always bring as much as you can. Ask well in advance of your trip what are the most important supplies you can bring. Your local industry representatives can help you with supplies. At FOCUS, we strive to increase local capacity on our travels, so the focus is on transferring skills locally. However, on our trips to Port-au-Prince, we often have phaco surgeons join us and work in a nearby charity clinic which is well equipped. It’s a great option for a first-time visitor. In addition to FOCUS, organizations such as SEE International, Himalayan Cataract Project and Orbis International will have seasoned global ophthalmologists to travel with and well-planned assignments.

Sometimes the most effective way to help is to donate to an organization like FOCUS or other eye care organizations that promote programs that increase sustainable solutions in the developing world. After all, it is resources that limit capacity building. In many cases, the money generated from half a week of work when donated to the right program can have a greater impact than going on a mission once a year to perform cataract surgery in a remote location. .

For more information about FOCUS, visit us on the web at 1focus.org.

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