Bridging the Gap: Medford to Africa

Medical Eye Center Doctor restores eyesight in Africa and trains African doctor here in Medford

It takes a village—a global village—to improve health care around the world. And Medford doctor Matt Oliva of Medical Eye Center (MEC) is doing his part. Together with the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP), he is striving to promote self-sufficient eye care in impoverished nations by restoring eyesight to thousands in Africa and teaching African doctors—one of whom he’ll host right here in Medford—to do the same.

Dr. Oliva has teamed up with HCP and the Earth Institute at Columbia University on the Millenium Villages Project, which involves finding the most cost effective health, agriculture, and education interventions in order to help rural African villages lift themselves out of poverty and meet the millennium development goals set forth by the United Nations.

As part of this effort Dr. Oliva is in western Kenya for a week conducting comprehensive eye care programs. Working with Kenyan ophthalmologist, Dr. Ciku Mathenge and her team of Kenyan ophthalmic nurses, Dr. Oliva will be performing cataract surgery, examining all 5000 members of the village and treating any eye disease present, mass treating for Vitamin A deficiency, and providing glasses for patients that need them.

Sauri, Kenya is a farming community plagued by hunger, AIDS, and malaria. Between sixty and seventy percent of the population live on less than a dollar per day. With limited access to medical care and poverty preventing residents from buying what little medicine is available, malnutrition and poor health run rampant.

After completing his work in Sauri, Dr. Oliva will travel to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, to host a corneal transplant workshop with Dr. Dan Kiage, a corneal specialist at Aga Khan Hospital. The ten corneas provided for transplantation during Dr. Oliva’s trip come from the SightLife eye bank in Seattle, which provides the tissue used in MEC’s corneal transplants. SightLife is in the process of establishing a functioning eye bank in Kenya to support the massive need for corneal transplantation.

Upon returning to Medford, Dr. Oliva will be joined by Rwandan doctor John Nkurikiye who arrives on November 17 to spend 10 days observing MEC doctors and learning more about their modern eye care techniques. Dr. Nkurikiye’s visit is part of the HCP American-standard residency training program in ophthalmology, established in 2004. This program is a joint effort of the Tilganga Eye Centre and the Nepal Eye Hospital under the National Academy of Medical Sciences. It is designed to train young ophthalmologists to operate at the highest international level of ophthalmology and adheres to the curriculum established by the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Dr. Nkurikiye is the most well trained and proficient ophthalmologist in Rwanda. He will be spending three months doing a corneal fellowship in America. In addition to his stay at MEC, he will be spending two months at the Moran Eye Center in Utah and also spending a week at SightLife in Seattle, to learn more about eye banking. SightLife is in the process of starting an eye bank in Rwanda so that Dr. Nkurikiye will have corneas available to treat the large burden of corneal blindness.

Medical Eye Center is excited to be attracting doctors from all over the world, and proud of the work its doctors are doing to improve the quality of eye care in impoverished countries. Dr. Oliva will be making a similar trip to Nepal in February, also through the Himalayan Cataract Project. This past summer, Dr. Paul Jorizzo and his daughter spent 12 days in Peru to perform 100 cataract surgeries on indigent patients, and prior to that, Dr. Paul Imperia traveled to Honduras to perform 49 sight-restoring surgeries in seven days—both through Surgical Eye Expeditions (www.seeintl.org). To learn more about MEC doctors and their charitable programs and travels, please call 541-779-4711.

About Millenium Villages Project:

The Millennium Villages project offers a bold, innovative model for helping rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty. The Villages are proving that by fighting poverty at the local level through community-led development, rural Africa can achieve the Millennium Development Goals—global targets for reducing extreme poverty and hunger by half and improving education, health, gender equality and environmental sustainability—by 2015, and escape the extreme poverty that traps hundreds of millions of people throughout the continent.

About Himalayan Cataract Project:

The Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP) is establishing a sustainable eye care infrastructure in the Himalaya that empowers local doctors to provide high-quality ophthalmic care through skills-transfer and education. The HCP responds to a pressing need for eye care in the Himalayan region. Our programs in Nepal, Tibet, China, Bhutan, India, Sikkim, and Pakistan have restored sight to tens of thousands of blind people every year since 1994.

About SightLife:

SightLife, operated by the Northwest Lions Foundation for Sight & Hearing, is one of the leading eye banks in the nation. In 2007, they provided more than 2,800 corneas for transplant, meeting regional needs and helping fill gaps across the United States and in 25 other countries.

About Medical Eye Center:

MEC first opened its doors in 1911 with a commitment to making patient health and well-being a top priority. MEC provides comprehensive medical eye-care services from routine vision exams to the latest in the medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases—including cataract microsurgery and laser vision correction. MEC also features a new Facial Aesthetics and Medical Spa. For more information call 541-779-4711.