LOUISVILLE, Ky. – To provide the best care for patients and the best training for physicians, the University of Louisville Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and UofL Physicians Eye Specialists regularly upgrade diagnostic and other equipment. Several of these displaced items have been put to use more than 5,000 miles away to improve care for patients in Ghana.
Until recently, Friends Eye Center in Tamale, Ghana, lacked basic ophthalmic equipment and the center’s surgical microscope was outdated and cumbersome. The center, directed by Seth Wanye, M.D., provides vision care for nearly 3 million residents of the West African nation and serves as a training site for future ophthalmologists.
Henry J. Kaplan, M.D., chair of the UofL Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, visited Friends Eye Center during a medical mission trip several years ago.
“Most of the equipment they had was non-functional. The equipment we gave them we no longer use because of the acquisition of more technologically advanced diagnostic devices,” Kaplan said. “Many of the people there have totally lost their eyesight and are dependent on their relatives and other support structures, which presents an enormous economic burden.”
Wanye, who regularly visits UofL to enhance his surgical skills, was visiting Louisville in 2015 when Kaplan offered to donate the equipment to his center in Ghana.
“It was like a dream come true,” Wanye said. “It helps me perform thorough examinations of the eye so I can identify other problems, not just the cataract that you can see. It also gives the patients comfort and they are fascinated.”
Shipping large items to Africa is not a simple process, however, and it was nearly a year before the equipment reached the center. Thanks to multiple organizations that shared the expense and worked to transport the instruments, the Friends Eye Center now has a slit lamp, which allows Wanye to examine his patients’ eyes more precisely, a better surgical microscope, chairs for both the surgeon and the patient, and an auto refractor for determining eyeglass prescriptions.
Wanye, who was the only ophthalmologist serving the Northern and Upper West regions of Ghana until a colleague joined him last year, also works with future physicians in the center to introduce them to the specialty of ophthalmology. Most Ghanaian medical students choose other specialties since ophthalmology is not a medical priority in Ghana.
“You have so many other diseases that are killing people. They say eye diseases don’t kill so they are overlooked,” Wanye said. But he has seen that restoring vision allows individuals to regain their independence and enables children to go back to school.
“When you go out into the villages, people are poor, they don’t have money but they are blind. So we will get the resources and do the surgery.”
Wanye receives funding from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Unite for Sight and the Lions Clubs International to provide eye screenings and perform between 2,000 and 4,000 cataract surgeries each year. In addition to screenings and surgeries on location, Wanye provides care for patients in the Friends Eye Center.
“To be one doctor that serves millions of people is not a trivial task. He does it because of a love and conviction for the good that he is doing. I really do admire what he’s doing and that’s why we are more than happy to assist him,” Kaplan said. This is the first time UofL’s ophthalmology department has donated equipment to a foreign health-care organization.
Wanye hopes to establish a regular exchange between UofL ophthalmologists and the center, similar to a program in which residents and faculty members from the UofL Department of Pediatrics travel to the Tamale Teaching Hospital several times each year. Tamale is an official sister city to Louisville.
“My dream is to have some continuous program, especially with the residents’ program here, so we would have residents coming to Friends Eye Center,” Wanye said. In the meantime, he is grateful to UofL for the donated equipment. “We know how valuable they are and how expensive they are. They will help us deliver more quality service to our people. Thank you to everyone at UofL,” Wanye said.