This year’s International Night drew more than 100 U-M medical students as well as Kellogg ophthalmology residents, fellows, faculty and other members of our medical community for a program that highlighted Kellogg activities abroad. Dean Sienko, M.D., M.S., vice president for health programs at the Carter Center, delivered the keynote address.
The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalyn, to address health problems and conflicts around the world. Notably, the center targets neglected tropical diseases, mostly in Africa, Central America and South America. Onchocerciasis, or river blindness, and trachoma are the two tropical eye diseases that have received the center’s attention.
Onchocerciasis is the second leading infectious cause of world blindness after trachoma. In his keynote, Dr. Sienko pointed out that more than 15 million people are infected and a million of those are blind.
Eradicating onchocerciasis has been an enormous challenge; the center has organized repeated massive drug treatment campaigns using ivermectin. In 2016, the center treated 18 million people with ivermectin twice a year, and aims to increase that number to 30 million.
“We have now eradicated onchocerciasis from Central America,” Dr. Sienko reported.
Trachoma, the number one infectious cause of world blindness, is another major target for the Carter Center. More than 200 million people are infected with this disease, which is caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis organism and carried by flies. The infection leaves the eyelids scarred, causing them to turn inward.
Dr. Sienko explained that trachoma is combated using “the SAFE method”: surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness and environmental improvement.
The Carter Center has supported more than 700,000 surgeries that reverse the direction of scarred eyelids so that they do not scrape the cornea and cause it to become cloudy—the cause of blindness in those with trachoma. In 2016, a trachoma operation occurred every five minutes somewhere in the world under Carter Center auspices.
More than 150 million doses of Chlamydia killing azithromycin have been distributed in infected villages. The center has trained more than 300,000 villagers in proper hygiene and installed nearly 4 million latrines.
Asked if the Carter Center encounters resistance from villagers, Dr. Sienko replied, “not at all. They welcome us. But we do not go in unless we are asked, and we are careful to lay the groundwork. Sadly, there are many countries where it is just too risky.”
At the end of his address, Dr. Sienko was surrounded by U-M medical students anxious to learn more. One student asked him why he chose this job.
“I told President Carter that in my current job as a public health officer in the United States, I can prevent disease in dozens of people,” he replied. “But at the Carter Center, I could do it for millions of people."
Notable in 2017
- Carol George, R.N., director of Kellogg operating rooms, lectured on Kellogg’s pre-operative clinic to eye hospital administrators at the 2017 meeting of the World Association of Eye Hospitals (WAEH) in Tianjin, China. That Kellogg innovation has successfully reduced same-day operative cancellations. Kellogg will host the 2018 WAEH meeting, the first time this meeting has been held in the U.S.
- Olivia Killeen, M.D., went to the Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, India, as a fourth-year U-M medical student under the mentorship of Kellogg professor Paula Anne Newman-Casey, M.D., M.S. She surveyed how often patients adhere to glaucoma treatment and field-tested Dr. Newman-Casey’s eyeGuide, which prompts patients about care of glaucoma.
- Nithya Vijayakumar, a second-year U-M medical student, traveled to India to conduct a telemedicine study of corneal ulcers under the direction of Kellogg professor Maria Woodward, M.D., M.S.
- Philip Lieu, M.D., Kellogg retinal specialist, and Bernadete Ayres, M.D., Kellogg ultrasound specialist, went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to teach ophthalmology residents at St. Paul’s Hospital. That training program began three years ago with strong input from Kellogg professors Christine Nelson, M.D., and Monte Del Monte, M.D. They confer monthly by Skype with ophthalmology chair Bezawit Tadegagne, M.D., and program director Lemlem Tamrat, M.D. Eight Kellogg professors have taught in that program.
- Chelsea Reighard, a current fourth-year U-M medical student, traveled to the Tenwek Eye Clinic in Kenya, where she assisted in examining patients, many of them nearly blind. She accompanied an outreach team to Mfangano Island on Lake Victoria to examine patients who otherwise receive no eye care.
Visiting Scholars at Kellogg
- Po-Yan Pang and Sheng-wei Chang were the 7th and 8th medical students to come from National Taiwan University
- Ashiqur Rahman, M.D., from Bangladesh, Mohammedreza Peyman, M.D., from Iran, and Anton Vurdaft, M.D., from Zambia came to Kellogg as International Council of Ophthalmology-sponsored fellows.
- Optometrist Eileen Ngun from Singapore came to Kellogg to attend the Specialty Contact Lens Fitting and Low Vision Rehabilitation Course, now in its third year.