Preventing blindness in Sierra Leone

Some of the patients who benefitted from Dr. D'Souza's mission to Sierra Leone to prevent blindness

In Sierra Leone there are only two ophthalmologists in the entire country treating a population of about 6 million people. So they rely on mission teams coming from abroad for eye care.

Dr. Annette D’Souza, an ophthalmologist from New Westminster, B.C. and the founder and president of International Vision Volunteers Canada, goes twice a year to Sierra Leone to provide eye care and to train local personnel at a hospital. When she travels, she brings a Humanitarian Medical Kit for specialized care from Health Partners International of Canada, filled with donated medicines and supplies that she requests for her work in Sierra Leone.

Kamakwie Wesleyan Hospital was destroyed in the civil war in 1994 and it was reopened about 6 years ago. Around that time, Annette began developing eye care services at the hopsital.

“Glaucoma is extremely common in Sierra Leone and there is only one eye drop available in the country,” says Annette. “They do not have a range of eye drops like in Canada, for example. The local eye drop is particularly useful in the population but it is not that available; and when it is, it is expensive. People who get glaucoma may go blind if untreated.”

In a telephone interview with HPIC’s Catherine Sharouty, she explained: “IVVC’s goal is to provide stable, regular eye care exams for the poor. Having the donated medicines on hand helps us tremendously. It’s a huge benefit to the population. People in Kamakwie are very poor. Most survive by subsistence farming and the unemployment rate in this area is about 70%. The entire country is really poor. Life expectancy is not beyond 50 years.”

Annette sees about 400 patients and does about 100 surgeries (mainly on cataracts) each time she goes to the hospital, usually for about two weeks.

She remembered one patient of a colleague on her team in particular: a mother who developed cataracts soon after she gave birth to her first child. “Her sight was restored after surgery and she was able to see her baby again. This was one of the most rewarding cases,” she said.

One time she was walking around in the community and someone waved her over. She waved back and the man told her “Look, I am working now because you did the cataract surgery for me.”

“We rely very heavily on the pharmaceutical companies to be able to provide this service,” Annette says. “Our objectives are to restore sight to as many blind people as possible, and to prevent blindness in others. We are so grateful to Allergan for helping us do this.”

Allergan supported Annette’s mission with donations of various kinds of eye drops, including one especially for treating glaucoma.