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Building Sustainable Eye Care Systems: One Surgeon’s Story

news | Ghana | Jul 28, 2023

Building a sustainable eye care system involves not only establishing a facility but also training professionals to manage and run them. For many low- and middle-income countries, a lack of highly trained and skilled eye surgeons presents a challenge to establishing comprehensive eye care systems. Dr. Prince Amissah’s story shows us HCP’s role in helping Ghana strengthen its eye care system, one Ghanaian surgeon at a time.

Dr. Prince Amissah's heart is firmly rooted in his homeland of Ghana. Even while studying abroad to pursue a competitive cornea care fellowship, he speaks passionately about his family, friends, and the community he plans to serve upon his return.

“My family’s there. It’s where my friends are. I will return and continue to serve my country.”

Dr. Amissah shares this while talking on a phone in India at the campus of HCP’s partner, the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute. He is one of the many dedicated Ghanaian ophthalmologists benefiting from HCP Cureblindness' impactful residency programs. Launched in 2006, this initiative aims to build capacity for eye care providers in Ghana. Through international training programs, HCP extends support for cataract surgical interventions and sub-specialty fellowship training in areas like cornea, glaucoma, oculoplastics, retina, and pediatrics.

In Ghana especially, the need for more ophthalmologists is dire. At last count, less than 100 ophthalmologists treat and care for Ghana’s 30 million people. Even fewer have Dr. Amissah’s highly specialized cornea surgery skills, and he thanks HCP for guiding him on his path to arrive where he is today.

“My relationship with HCP goes way back,” he says. “I think 2015. I was in a residency program and doing outreach programs.” Many of HCP’s outreaches took Dr. Amisah to Ghana’s most remote areas, where people lack access to eye care.

“So many people,” he says as he recalls one outreach in particular where he assisted surgeons in completing 400 surgeries in a matter of days.

At that time, Dr. Amissah was working as a first-year ophthalmology resident. In his limited free time, he assisted HCP by providing anesthesia for patients undergoing cataract surgery. “If it hadn’t been for HCP and their outreaches, I don’t know who would have helped in these rural areas,” he says. The experience left a mark, and Dr. Amissah left with a drive to learn more.

Amissah timeline

During his third year of residency, Dr. Amissah had the opportunity to receive hands-on experience with the construction of the KATH Eye Center in Kumasi (inaugurated in 2014) along with KATH, USAID, the LDS Church, and Orbis International. “We took the opportunity to do all the training that HCP gave us through regular hospital-based training programs by Dr. Geoff Tabin and many others,” he says. “I don’t know if I would have gotten into ophthalmology without HCP.” “Meeting all these people. Building relationships,” these experiences – along with hospital-based training programs supported by HCP volunteers - energized Dr. Amissah to pursue a subspecialty.

Today, Dr. Amissah is pursuing his cornea fellowship abroad since no such programs exist in Ghana, although a curriculum is under review. Upon completion of his program, he will be among the few trained corneal surgeons in Ghana. Eventually, he aims to become faculty for the upcoming cornea fellowship within the country, thereby advancing the development of a national eye care infrastructure that will grow with future generations. HCP funds these fellowships to empower talented ophthalmologists to bring their expertise back home and enhance the available eye care.

In 2023, the student became the trainer when Dr. Amissah taught newer surgeons the fine-tuned techniques he’d learned from HCP to remove cataracts and treat blindness.

Despite the challenges posed by COVID, Dr. Amissah's dedication remains steadfast. As he awaits the opportunity to resume outreach programs and surgical interventions in Ghana, he cherishes the memories of the patients he has treated. When asked if any one patient stands out in his memory, he laughs, “All of them have stayed with me.”

Dr. Amissah looks forward to returning to Ghana and sharing his knowledge with residents, passionate about shaping the future of eye care in his beloved country. His commitment to serve his homeland shines through brightly, as he affirms with unwavering conviction, "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

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