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Flying Eye Hospital Brings Hope for Eye Patients in Africa

When the middle-aged patient lay down on the table in the operating room on the DC-10 aircraft on the tarmac at Accra's Kotoka International Airport, //little did he know that the operation was being broadcast live to about a dozen doctors, ophthalmologists and trainees.

His surgery was carried out by a British expert assisted by a Ghanaian doctor to correct an abnormality of the eyelid and improve his appearance and vision as part of the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital programme.

The aircraft, converted into a teaching facility with a clinic for laser treatment and an operating theatre, travels to developing countries, where the ORBIS team performs surgeries with a view to training doctors in the country visited.

Tissue was taken from the patient's leg and used to give the patient improved vision. After about three hours, he was wheeled to the recovery room where three other patients waited.

"I do not see in my left eye at all, and vision in the right eye is poor," said a young woman as she waited to undergo glaucoma surgery. "I hope after the surgery, my vision will improve," she said.

These are just two of more than 60 handled by the hospital in almost three weeks in Ghana.

Douglas Gordon and his team of some 30 surgeons, ophthalmic nurses and technicians have been given high marks. "The programme has been very successful," Patrick Kwaw, a Ghanaian eye specialist who coordinated the visit, told DPA in Accra.

Nearly 20 local ophthalmologists and several nurses and biomedical engineers benefited from the hospital's programme in which local doctors, nurses and anaesthesiologists work alongside the volunteer team, he said.

The training modalities include lectures, surgical demonstrations, participation in the lab and use of vittretinal surgery simulator.

According to Gordon, the three-day visit cost around $250,000 and Kwaw would conclude that it was money well spent.

Ghana is in dire need of the specialised services provided by the flying eye hospital. Many Ghanaians are in danger of going blind and according to the Ghana Health Service about 200,000 out of a 20 million population are already blind.

"Cataract blindness accounts for half of these cases," the Ghana Health Service (GHS) said.

Glaucoma accounts for 15 to 20 percent of cases, trachoma five percent, childhood blindness 5 to 10 percent and 10 percent owing to other causes.

Medical authorities say the figures are high, especially as 75 percent of all blindness is either preventable or treatable.

"It is equally important for people to take preventive steps and seek immediate care when eye disease is suspected," the GHS says.

Dr. Gordon said their mission is to prevent blindness and restore sight.

The flying hospital team is leaving behind a trained team and videos of surgical procedures to train in the use of surgical instruments.

The Ghana Health Service has launched a five-year (2004-2008) National Eye Health Programme aimed at reducing the prevalence of avoidable blindness in Ghana by strengthening national, regional and local capacities.

It also aims to ensure affordable eye care, make eye health available to everybody and mobilize communities to participate actively in eye care.

But given that there are only an estimated 50 ophthalmologists in Ghana with 23 in the capital, Accra, this is a very tall order. Those who benefited from the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital can only thank their lucky stars.

(Source: IANS)

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