When Dr. Gcobani Tuswa came to Mercy Ships in 2009, he was already a doctor. But while working with Dr. Glenn Strauss, he was able to participate in an intensive six-week training which helped him develop new skills and increase his confidence.
“At one point I was operating in an operating theater when my fellow trainee in the theater next to me asked me for help,” Dr. Tuswa said. “Dr. Strauss wasn’t around because he had to leave for an emergency. I walked over, looked at the situation and helped my fellow trainee. While doing that, without my knowing, Dr. Strauss returned. But, instead of taking over from me, he let me do my thing and watched me do my work. I only noticed him when I was done. He was just standing there smiling and he complimented me on what I just did. That was, of course, very important to me, but also showed that he is not only a good surgeon, but also a good teacher, and that is a unique combination.”
A Cure for Cataracts
Dr. Strauss taught Dr. Tuswa to perform Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery (MSICS), an effective and inexpensive procedure to treat cataracts. Knowledge of the procedure is a particularly useful skill for ophthalmologists in Africa. Untreated cataracts are a common condition among the population of South Africa, especially in the less developed regions. Cataracts develop slowly but can have far-reaching consequences without proper treatment. Eventually, the condition can make you completely blind. In fact, most of the blindness in the world is caused by cataracts. That happens mainly to people who live far away from good medical care or who do not have the money to afford surgical treatment.
The advantages of MSICS became evident to Dr. Tuswa soon after his time with Mercy Ships.
“When I came home, I started working in a public hospital and they were cancelling surgeries because the hospital had a shortage of suturing material,” he shared. “And I said, no, we can do this with the MSICS. I showed them how this surgery works, and they were amazed. MSICS is now a standard cataract operation procedure at that hospital. The four junior doctors that I worked with went to learn this procedure and became eye specialists as well. Now they are working in different places around the country.”
Bringing Cataract Treatment to Rural South Africa
In 2010, Dr. Tuswa continued with his specialist residency training and went on to work in different places in the Eastern Cape. During that time, he married and now lives in Queenstown with his wife, three children, and their dog. He opened his own practice in 2020 — a significant development, as it’s the only one in the area and the public hospital does not have an ophthalmologist. Dr. Tuswa has only been in Queenstown for a year, but he’s already looking ahead.
“In the future I want to expand my practice,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to open operating theaters and find colleagues to work with. Then we’ll be able to help even more people and continue to fight the cataract problem in my country.”
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