For four West African ophthalmologists, World Sight Day this year was a truly global experience.
Drs. Nestor Avia (Lomé, Togo), Kossi Dito Lawoe Edee (Abidjan, Ivory Coast), Abba Hydara (The Gambia) and Ismael Maomou (Guinea) traveled to Jacksonville and Chicago last week for a two-week trip to learn more about American ophthalmology practices so they can bring those lessons back to their communities and implement new procedures.
“It is a good opportunity for me to learn many things that are not practiced in our country,” said Avia, who is based out of the Togoan capital of Lomé but travels throughout the country to serve communities. “I look forward to sharing this experience with my fellow ophthalmologists in my country.”
Their visit, underwritten by the Edna Sproull Williams Foundation, Rotary Club of Jacksonville and American Academy of Ophthalmologists, was part of the Williams Visionary Scholars program, now in its fifth year.
The first week of their journey was spent in Jacksonville, which even came with a little extra “excitement” when they arrived in time to weather Hurricane Matthew with their host families. The itinerary included time with Jacksonville-area ophthalmologists, including Vision Is Priceless Board President Dr. Jeffrey H. Levenson and VIP Visionary/Advisory Board member Dr. Jerry Knauer in addition to participation in VIP children’s vision screenings and a visit to The Way Medical Clinic in Green Cove Springs.
“This is my first time in the United States, and I love it,” Hydara said. “I’ve gotten to see some really interesting style of work. The doctors and support staff are very professional and things flow in a systematic way. I’ve also seen ethical principles being applied in with patient interaction and how to handle difficult questions. (I am also impressed) with the record keeping. Back home, everything is done on paper, which can create problems. But here, everything I’ve seen is computerized and really well-documented, which is the best way to do things.”
Maomou added that he believes his visit will be very beneficial in learning about different techniques and implementing them in his community.
On Tuesday, Oct. 11, Avia and Edee helped screen children at the Wayman Academy of the Arts in Jacksonville, while Hydara and Maomou screened children at Orange Park Kindergarten and Faith Christian Academy on Wednesday, Oct. 12 and were able to see the efficiency of the Spot Vision Screener firsthand, which can help identify potential eye health issues at an early stage.
“It was amazing,” said Hydara. “We see a lot of children (back home), but the ones we see have bad problems. There are children with just intermediate problems who would benefit from us having the Spot. We would be empowered to go out and screen everybody and identify who needs services. I have seen a technology I can recommend to my hospital and government. The initial cost is about $7,000, but the number of people to benefit from it is in the hundreds of thousands.”
Following their visit to Jacksonville, the four ophthalmologists moved on to Chicago for the AAO Annual Meeting, where they were able to meet and hear from doctors from communities around the country and observe latest industry trends and best practices.
“There is a big difference in the established practices here compared to our countries,” said Edee. “(The United States) is very advanced with technology, but it will be good motivation for us. It can change your mind and improve the way you practice.”
Hydara said his experience will only help him get better as a professional.
“I am seeing the practice of ophthalmology in a first-world country, and the standards are very high,” he said. “We all deserve the best, and I can only wish for the best for my people. I think being here and seeing all these good things are going to push me to work harder so our people can benefit. I am really grateful for that.”