In July 2018, my friend David and I were fortunate enough to spend 2 weeks in the eye department of the Mvumi hospital in rural Tanzania. This was arranged after we attended an ophthalmology conference in London and contacted Professor Foster who gave an excellent and inspiring talk on ophthalmology in Africa. He then put us in touch with Dr Savage who works at the eye department in Mvumi hospital.
The eye hospital runs 7 days a week from roughly 8am – 6pm. An average day consists of a ward round, a walk-in clinic and a theatre session. Ophthalmology is one of the few medical specialities where one can walk from the operating table to a clinic discussing a wide range of clinical presentations, which appeals to me greatly.
I saw a wide range of conditions and practices that I am unlikely to see in the UK. Sadly, I saw a few cases of vitamin A deficiency in children that can lead to corneal melting and subsequent blindness. There are currently programmes in place in Tanzania to improve access to vitamin A supplementation across the country and to genetically modify crops such as maize to contain more vitamin A. Whilst I was there, there happened to be a specialised clinic to treat severe trachoma – one of the leading causes of preventable blindness in the world. It was incredibly exciting to view the procedure, known as bilamellar tarsal rotation, that can drastically improve vision and prevent further damage to the eye that may lead to blindness.
In the clinic, I was able to become much more familiar with the essential tools of every ophthalmologist – the slit lamp and ophthalmoscope. It was great to feel more confident using them and to be able to see clinical signs on eyes that I had only previously read about in textbooks. In theatre, it was amazing to be able to scrub in and assist in several different operations that Dr Savage was performing.
During my free time, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the village of Mvumi. It was exhilarating to hire a motorcycle and ride through the African savanna to nearby hills and lakes. David and I also befriended some locals and enjoyed a game of football at the village’s school fields.
All in all, it was an incredible experience and I learnt a huge amount. I would like to thank Dr Savage and Professor Foster for the opportunity and the Principal’s Go Abroad fund for the generous financial help!