CureBlindness | Talented Doctor Brings Wealth of Experience to Eritrea
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Dr. Babiker Haga Abukheir, a talented ophthalmologist who recently left Sudan due to political unrest.

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Talented Doctor Brings Wealth of Experience to Eritrea

news | Eritrea | Apr 09, 2024

An unexpected path leads Dr. Babiker to HCP and its mission to build local capacity in Eritrea.

It’s amazing how a simple conversation can lead to a path-altering, life-affirming decision. That’s what happened when HCP Board Member Dr. Matt Oliva spoke with Dr. Babiker Haga Abukheir, a talented ophthalmologist who had recently left Sudan with his family due to political unrest.

Dr. Babiker’s path to HCP started with a packed suitcase and a bus ticket. With heightened tensions in Sudan, Dr. Babiker and his family made the difficult decision to leave. Their future, once known, now seemed filled with uncertainties.

A fresh start could mean new possibilities. This promise kept them going on their three-day journey by bus to Sudan’s northern border before crossing into Egypt. From there, the family traveled to Aswan before taking a plane to Cairo.

A 40-year military veteran who trained and worked in a military hospital his entire career, he wanted to continue to use his time and talent in his field of ophthalmology. Leaning into his network, Babikar reached out to a colleague in Kenya, who passed along a message to HCP Board Member Dr. Menghis Bairu who connected Babikar to Oliva.

Female resident performs cataract surgery
Dr. Babikar (L) looks over the shoulder of a female resident during a recent surgical outreach in Eritrea.

“I had a very nice conversation with Dr. Matt who asked me if I would come on the first of September for a cataract campaign in Asmara,” Babiker says. Babiker joined the HCP and Behren Aini Hospital teams that restored sight to more than 1100 patients. The outreach also performed Eritrea’s first cornea transplant with tissue carried by surgeons from the United States.

“In Ophthalmology, you have to heal the patients, treat the patients, do research, teach students, and help people.” Dr. Babiker Haga Abukheir

In Sudan, Dr. Babiker had been a professor of Ophthalmology in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. “I was born to be a teacher,” he explains. He looked forward to finding a position that utilized his vast knowledge to elevate the next generation of eye doctors. His goals aligned with HCP’s hopes to work with local partners to build capacity and train doctors to build sustainable systems in Eastern Africa.

Babiker looks forward to dedicating this next career chapter to helping teach this new generation of doctors. He’s accepted a long-term position leading the Department of Ophthalmology at Orotta College in Eritrea and looks forward to the challenges ahead. “In Ophthalmology, you have to heal the patients, treat the patients, do research, teach students, and help people,” says Babiker. He’ll do all of these things and more in his new role, as well as guide and mentor younger doctors.

Dr. Geoff Tabin gives lecture
Dr. Babiker (wearing black jacket) listens with residents to a lecture given by HCP Co-Founder Dr. Geoff Tabin.

Plans for 2024 include a retinoblastoma study and lessons on screening and treating for diabetic retinopathy. Hospital staff are working towards setting up vitreoretinal surgery equipment to allow them to perform more complicated surgeries like retina detachment.

Also, a multi-year Memorandum of Understanding with Eritrea’s Ministry of Health and Orotta College of Medicine and Health Sciences will pair HCP with Eritrean partners to bring more care to its citizens. Each outreach will offer opportunities for residents to learn and perfect new skills.

“Help from HCP has been great so far,” he says. “I was so inspired after meeting (Dr. Geoff Tabin) and being a member of the HCP family.”

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