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Sudanese Female Ophthalmic Surgeons Focused on Saving Sight

  • Dr. Saisabil Omer, left, and Dr. Mayasa Mustafa spent two weeks traveling across Sudan to perform surgery on trachoma patients.

Even in the shade it was 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It can be challenging to focus in that kind of heat, but Dr. Saisabil Omer and Dr. Mayasa Mustafa were committed to providing sight-saving surgery to the men and women who came to the Carter Center-supported trachoma clinic in Al Fashaga, Gedarif state, Sudan.

The trachomatous trichiasis (TT) surgeries the two women provide, which realign the eyelid so that eyelashes no longer scratch the cornea with each blink, only take about 20 minutes per eye. But it takes days of planning to make these clinics happen.

First there is the eight-hour drive from capital Khartoum to Al Fashaga. Once the team arrives at the clinic site, they spend one or two days looking for patients in need of surgery. Announcements are made over the radio and by a megaphone attached to a truck driving around the village. Ministry of Health personnel also walk through villages talking to residents and looking for TT cases.

Thanks to this mobilization, the clinic receives patients for TT surgery and a steady stream of people eager to be examined for other eye conditions by the visiting eye doctors. Residents know this is likely their only chance to be seen by a professional, as the nearest eye clinic is in the state’s capital, three hours away by public transport.

Since 1999, The Carter Center has assisted the Trachoma Control Program in Sudan in collaboration with the government, nongovernmental organizations, and funding partners. This collective effort has enabled trachoma prevalence mapping and implementation of SAFE strategy interventions. SAFE represents the four-pronged strategy to eliminate blinding trachoma as a public health problem, consisting of TT surgeries for those facing imminent threat of blindness, antibiotics for annual treatment, facial cleanliness, and environmental sanitation (latrines).

  • Omer, left, and Mustafa conduct trachomatous trichiasis surgeries at a clinic in Gedarif state, Sudan. (Photos: The Carter Center/ A. Sanders)

This is the second TT surgery campaign that Omer and Mustafa have participated in. To be an ophthalmologist in Sudan, one must have six years of university and two years of general medicine practice, with one of those years completed as part of national service. Omer performed her national service in a military hospital; Mustafa was based with the national insurance fund in Northern state. Following these two years, candidates must complete four additional years of residency.

Though doctors learn about TT surgery in school, the surgical camps provide them hands-on experience. Both women said they enjoy participating in the camps because they get to help people in need.

“These people are poor and cannot afford to come to Khartoum,” The surgeons conducted 20 sightsaving surgeries in two days at Al Fashaga. They then moved from location to location every one to two days for two weeks assisting those in need.

As they prepared to move to the next location, all supplies had to be packed back into the vehicles, including the surgical tables, chairs and a generator. Omer and Mustafa and the other resident ophthalmologists supporting the Federal Ministry of Health’s trachoma elimination program have a lot of work ahead of them. In December 2016, the ministry launched its Trachoma Action Plan to reach its goal of eliminating trachoma as a public health problem by 2020. According to the plan, 43,514 surgeries were believed to be needed in Sudan, 38 percent of them in previously inaccessible Darfur.

Omer said. “It is important to come here and live with them and feel like them and to help them.”

Learn more about the Center's Trachoma Control Program »

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