Dr. Vera Essuman, a senior lecturer at the University of Ghana School of Medicine and Dentistry and a trainer at the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons (GCPS), spent two months in Ann Arbor this spring observing the Pediatric Ophthalmology fellowship program at Kellogg Eye Center and planning the implementation of a similar training program back home. UMMS Professor of Ophthalmology, Monte Del Monte, MD, and Clinical Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Grace Wang, MD, are helping develop the new program with Essuman and other leaders at GCPS, where some general ophthalmology fellowship training is offered but no sub-specialty training has been available in the field until now.
A 2018 Global REACH Partnership Development Grant helped get the project moving by partially funding Essuman’s recent visit to Ann Arbor.
“The most exciting thing is the fact that now we’re going to have specialized training in-country to make sure that we produce enough doctors to take care of our children’s eye health needs,” said Essuman, MBChB, FWACS, FGCS.
Essuman is one of just four practicing pediatric ophthalmologists in all of Ghana. And those four physicians collectively work across just two hospitals, Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi and Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, leaving large swaths of the country’s 11 million children without easy access to pediatric ophthalmologists. Like her fellow pediatric ophthalmologists (and like most of her Ghanaian colleagues with sub-specialty training of any kind), Essuman completed her pediatric ophthalmology fellowship outside of Ghana before returning to practice.
“A big problem in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa is that doctors have to go abroad for specialty training. More often than not, they don’t ever return,” said Monte Del Monte, MD, who has helped implement similar fellowship programs in China and elsewhere. “This is going to break that cycle because they get their training in country.”
The partners have already worked out a two-year training curriculum based on Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology Fellowship Compliance Committee-approved US programs, and standards set by the International Council of Ophthalmology, but customized to be locally relevant for Ghana. Selection of the first fellows for the new program will take place this fall, with the first two trainees set begin the program early in 2020. They will split their time between Korle Bu and Komfo Anokye, and potentially spend time at Kellogg Eye Center as well. Del Monte was in Ghana early this year to visit both teaching hospitals and meet some of the prospective trainees.
“There are several who are interested already. The enthusiasm for the training is clear,” he said.
Kellogg Eye Center plans to send faculty to Ghana intermittently to assist with instruction. Remote training via BlueJeans is another possibility the team is exploring, Del Monte said, but the bulk of the teaching will fall to Essuman and her three Ghanaian pediatric ophthalmology colleagues. No stranger to teaching, Essuman was named the 2018 Eye Health Hero by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness for her prior work to expand pediatric eye services in Ghana, including Glaucoma Drainage Tube Surgeries and 360-degree suture trabeculotomy glaucoma surgeries for children. The new fellowship will add more services to the growing list.
“I have a relentless optimism and faith in God. That’s what drives me,” she said. “For me, the energy comes from wanting to create a sustained source of specialized expertise to improve care in my country so that no one needs to leave the Ghana to seek eye care abroad.”