Success Story: Royal Jubilee Hospital Donation Advances Eye Care in Africa

Many thanks to Dr. Malcolm Orr, who provided this wonderful story of generosity and hope.

In this time of COVID it is reassuring to hear some good news that has happened despite the pandemic. I would like to thank the Royal Jubilee Hospital and Island Health for their generosity and foresight in donating much needed cataract surgery equipment to one of the poorest parts of Africa. I would also like to thank the efforts of Dr. Rusty Ritenour and the Alcon company for their efforts in making this happen.

I began working as a volunteer surgeon, at an eye clinic in a mission hospital in Zimba, Zambia in 2013. The eye clinic in Zimba was established in 1994 by a non-profit group called International Vision Volunteers. Zambia is one of the poorest countries in Africa with an average daily wage of little more than a few dollars. The major cause of blindness in Africa is cataract. This clinic provides free vision restoring cataract surgery to those who require it. This has a major positive impact on the lives of patients and their ability to care for their families. Patients come from many miles away by foot and camp out besides the clinic building to wait for their turn.

The advent of phaco emulsification machines has allowed great advances in modern cataract surgery and is a standard of care in our country. While some very dense cataracts in Africa may be treated with a different technique, the use of a phaco emulsification machine allows cataract surgery in Africa to be performed to a very high standard.

In 2019 the Royal Jubilee Hospital began a program to replace phaco emulsification machines. In January 2020, Dr. Ritenour, section head of ophthalmology, contacted me to let me know that the 3 machines being replaced would be surplus and could be made available for donation to help with international ophthalmology. The clinic in Zimba was excited to have the opportunity to obtain these machines and advance the standard of cataract care in this part of Africa.

The process of getting there has been a long one. Dr. Ritenour was able to secure permission to donate these machines and then arrangements had to be made to ship them to Africa in a shipping container, the only safe way of making sure they arrive. With the help of Alcon, who manufactured these machines, it was possible to ship them initially to the east coast of the United States where they arrived in November 2020. From there they were placed in a container shipped to Africa and in March 2021 they finally arrived in Zimba.

Three years ago, it was possible to attract and help train an African ophthalmologist and cataract surgeon to staff the clinic in Zimba year-round. Despite the pandemic, which has prevented Canadian and American volunteers from traveling to Zimba, the presence of a local ophthalmologist has allowed the work of the clinic to continue. The work of the clinic has been greatly enhanced by the generous donation of these modern phaco emulsification machines from the Royal Jubilee Hospital and Island health. Congratulations to everyone involved.

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