In 2010, Dr. Abram Wodomé first stepped into the ophthalmic operating room onboard a Mercy Ship. During his time mentoring with Mercy Ships volunteers, he learned a new cataract surgical technique that was revolutionary in Togo and something sparked inside him. Soon a new hope for his country was born.

A decade later, that spark has become a fire. In 2021, Dr. Wodomé partnered with Mercy Ships to launch a new cataract surgical training program which will teach other surgeons the same method he first learned onboard. Over the course of three years, Dr. Wodomé plans to train more ophthalmologists and provide an extra 4,000 free surgeries.

But it doesn’t end there. The method that Dr. Wodome utilizes is focused on expanding knowledge and training by equipping students to go on to teach other surgeons these methods. Two students, Dr. Harry Nkok and Dr. Dalia Zonvide shared their story.

 

Dr. Harry Nkok

Dr. Harry Nkok, from Cameroon, was a pioneer student at the training institute. His training went well — so well, in fact, that Dr. Harry was immediately offered a permanent position as the clinic’s ophthalmologist.

“It is formative,” Dr. Nkok shared about the training. “And is a necessity. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be a good program. Nothing is easy here.”

Dr. Nkok says the program’s biggest benefit is simple: the fact that it exists.

“Elsewhere, there is not even a training program,” Dr. Nkok shared. “We are trained on the job because there are no materials and there are no qualified trainers like Dr. Wodomé. There is no comparison to make.”

Dr. Wodomé’s surgical method is vitally important, Dr. Nkok says, because it can be done anywhere and at a low cost.

“For our people who do not have enough income, this is the best technique,” he said. “There are no other alternatives. It has a great impact on the quality of care that we can provide to the population. It is priceless.”

He believes that having more qualified surgeons will enhance access to surgery everywhere:

“The most disadvantaged people are the ones who need it most. And unfortunately, they don’t always have the means to afford surgery. The impact [of the training] will be enormous, not only in Togo but in the subregion. Everyone will benefit from this and the people will be helped more.”

 

Dr. Dalia Zonvide

Dr. Dalia Zonvide has been a surgeon for years. But whenever cataract patients came to her clinic, she had to refer them to other colleagues. Ophthalmic surgery had never been her skill set — until now.

“I have already learned to have some confidence in myself,” she shared. “I perfected the little knowledge I had, I perfected anesthesia. I learned a lot in such a short time, and so I guess that before the end of the training, I will be really well trained.”

Dr. Zonvide is excited to offer better care to patients with cataracts. She wants to extend her practice beyond the capital city of Lomé into the country’s interior.

“We have noticed that in our environment there is a lack of means, so patients do not necessarily come to the doctors,” Dr. Zonvide said. “If I master this surgery, I could go to them. When I am really ready, I will be able to continue these surgeries myself to impact more people and decrease the number of visually impaired people around me.”

As the newest student, Dr. Zonvide knows she’s got a lot to learn. But she feels she is in the best possible hands, saying, “I had many teachers during my training but Dr. Wodomé is different from any teacher I’ve ever had. He has the patience to show you from start to finish the different steps of this surgery. Even when you know you are not doing well, he is always there to encourage you.”

Like Dr. Nkok, she’s caught a vision for seeing eye care in Togo transformed for good.

“I believe that more and more people are interested in eye training in Togo,” she shared. “If we continue this path, we will be able to reach some goals that we did not reach before. There is a lack of staff, a lack of equipment, a lack of technical facilities… but with the help of trainers like Dr. Wodomé, there is hope.”

Learn more about Mercy Ships approach to medical training and capacity building at mercyships.org/what-we-do/lasting-impact.