Improving Eye Care in Africa
KCCO opens new facility as founders win major award
It's an exciting month for Seva's lead partner in Africa, the Kilimanjaro Center for Community Ophthalmology (KCCO). On November 4, with Seva's Executive Director Mark Lancaster there to cut the ribbon, KCCO celebrated the opening of its new 25,700 square foot training center, a vital resource that will prepare hundreds of eye care providers and public health workers in eastern Africa to reach a huge population that has never had eye care before.
And on Novermber 9, KCCO founders Dr. Paul Courtright and Dr. Susan Lewallen were presented with the prestigious International Blindness Prevention Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons.
Susan and Paul launched KCCO in 2001 with financial and technical support from Seva, and it's one of the key partners in Seva's Centers for Community Ophthalmology, a unique global network dedicated to bringing eye care services to millions of people. KCCO is already making a huge difference. In fact, rising demand for KCCO trainings created an urgent need for a better facility.
"It was always a struggle to find space for our trainings, so we needed to rent hotel rooms or conference rooms," explains Paul. "Now, with our new training center, we're in a much better position to really meet the needs throughout the continent."
KCCO provides training to Tanzania's Ministry of Health, a variety of nongovernmental organizations and public health clinics, and to the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College (KCMC), KCCO's primary partner in Tanzania and the largest hospital in the area. KCMC trains surgeons in the new facility's operating theater, while KCCO teaches how to successfully manage a community ophthalmology service.
“The new facility has two lecture rooms, a study room with 12 computers online, a resource center, and surgical training rooms,” Paul says proudly. “It means we can have multiple groups doing multiple things at once. Today, for example, we had students from eight different countries in eastern Africa learning about community ophthalmology in one room; in another, we had a meeting to discuss the global eye care network that Seva is supporting; and meanwhile, the team from KCMC was training cataract surgeons in the operating room. It’s really exciting to think about keeping up that pace from now on.”
The Work of KCCO
Located in Moshi, a small city near Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, KCCO has 24 full time Tanzanian faculty and staff. KCCO’s programs are improving eye care services throughout eastern Africa, a region with 210 million people in 18 countries spanning from Egypt to South Africa.
Yet KCCO isn't a hospital and doesn't provide clinical services. Its work is focused on research, program development and training, all intended to help eye care service providers and public health workers reach a huge population that has never had these services before.
“We don’t train cataract surgeons — we train people to set up and maintain the programs that support surgeons in accomplishing their work,” says Susan, explaining the importance of the KCCO training and research approach. “Our research has shown that the surgeons being trained in Tanzania often can’t be productive, because they usually get sent out to a hospital with no equipment, no staff, and no outreach program to bring in patients. They need to be supported by a team that keeps the clinic running smoothly and conducts outreach to bring patients in from the rural communities. That’s what we do — we train that support team.”
Dr. Suzanne Gilbert, Director of Seva’s Center for Innovation in Eye Care, points to KCCO as an example of how Seva and its partners are building global eye care capacity. “In a relatively short time, KCCO has grown to be the most active center dedicated to community ophthalmology in Africa, with trainees coming from countries across the continent,” Suzanne says, “In fact, KCCO is a lead partner in Seva’s new Clinton Global Initiative campaign, So One Million Eyes See Again.”
Honored by Their Peers
With all their success at KCCO, it is fitting that Paul and Susan have been selected by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) to receive the prestigious International Blindness Prevention Award this year. The award is a special honor, recognizing “individuals who have made significant contributions to the prevention of blindness or restoration of sight worldwide.”
The award comes full circle this year, as its first recipient was Dr. G. Venkataswamy, a co-founder of Seva Foundation and the founder of Aravind Eye Care System, the inspiration for KCCO’s work. “We are incredibly honored and humbled to receive this award and to be put in the company of Dr. Venkataswamy,” says Paul. “Dr. V’s life’s work epitomized the kind of dedication Susan and I strive for every day.”
Everyone at Seva congratulates Susan and Paul on their well-deserved award and the continued success they and their staff are generating at KCCO.