Volunteering in Kenya


It takes a village—a global village—to improve health care around the world. That’s why Dr. Matt Oliva has joined with the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP) to promote self-sufficient eye care in impoverished nations by restoring eyesight to thousands in Africa and teaching African doctors to do the same.

Dr. Oliva 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.

Kenya,-Europe-Fall-'08-293As part of this effort Dr. Oliva traveled to 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 performed cataract surgery, examined the 5,000 members of the village, treated a variety of eye diseases, mass treated for Vitamin A deficiency, and provided glasses for patients who needed 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 traveled 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.

Back in Medford, Medical Eye Center welcomed Rwandan doctor John Nkurikiye who spent 10 days observing MEC doctors and learning more about 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. His trip to America involved a three-month long corneal fellowship. In addition to his stay at MEC, he spent two months at the Moran Eye Center in Utah and 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.

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. For more information on HCP visit www.cureblindness.org

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. For more information on Millennium Villages visit www.millenniumvillages.org

SightLife, operated by the Northwest Lions Foundation for Sight & Hearing, is one of the leading eye banks in the nation. They provide corneas for transplant, meeting regional needs and helping fill gaps across the United States and in 25 other countries. For more information on SightLife visit www.sightlife.org