When I was a second-year medical student, I was assigned to work in the eye department of the Mara Regional Referral Hospital in my home country of Tanzania. As I settled into my residency, I was shocked by the realization that many people in the local community were going blind from entirely treatable causes. Sadly, this situation was due to a growing shortage of eye care staff to provide people with the care they needed to prevent vision loss.
To make matters worse, long-time staff were retiring and the eye unit was reliant on visiting surgeons from a neighbouring region. Most recent graduates want to work in big cities where their income potential is higher. Of course, I understand the choices people make — we all want to provide well for our families, but my heart broke at the number of people that would suffer needlessly. What about them and their families?
I was inspired and determined to make a difference. I decided to become an ophthalmologist and a permanent member of the eye department in Mara. I just didn’t know how to make this goal a reality.
I faced a critical obstacle: the ability to cover the cost of furthering my education while raising two children. I looked high and low for funding, and eventually learned about a scholarship program through the Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology, funded by Seva Canada donors. I was thrilled! Your help answered my prayers.
Thanks to the scholarship I am now an ophthalmology fellow. The skills I am developing will change the lives of many people in my country. Thank you for helping me serve my community!
The Seva Canada staff asked me to share one of my most memorable patient stories with you, so I’d like to tell you about Amos. He’s in his late 50’s and when I met him he had been blind for two years. I examined him and diagnosed him with cataracts. After a successful surgery, Amos is again living a healthy and productive life. But it is what he said afterwards that really impacted me.
I hope we will soon be able to do more outreach and treat more people just like Amos in the community. We need more skilled staff members. There just aren’t enough eye care professionals to treat the backlog of patients – and it is only going to get worse. A significant portion of our population is getting older and they will need eye care as their vision degrades. And it isn’t just at the Mara Regional Referral Hospital; this is a problem everywhere.
I’m so grateful for the scholarship and expertise you have given me. If there aren’t professionals at every level of eye care - from the community outreach worker to the ophthalmologist to the hospital manager - we just aren’t going to be able to treat everyone who needs it. More people will be blind or visually impaired, unable to work or go to school or take care of themselves. According to recent studies, over the next 27 years, every category of vision loss is expected to increase by 55% or 600 million people! It is really scary to think about how that will impact communities like mine.
I can guarantee that your donations are being put to good use and the people you help train will be just as thankful as I am to be able to give back to their communities in your honour.
I can’t thank the Seva Canada community enough for my scholarship and please know, that I think about your kindness and generosity every time I help someone regain their sight.
With heartfelt thanks,
Dr. Camillus Mbaga