For the past four years the U.S. Army, in partnership with host nations, performed more than 3,100 manual small-incision cataract surgeries in eight countries to cure blindness through several medical readiness training exercises hosted by U.S. Army Africa.
Over the course of six months, USARAF, in cooperation with U.S. Army Medical Command successfully trained an African ophthalmologist to learn the SICS technique, which is the most efficient cataract procedure to use in Africa.
Additionally, Dr. (Col.) Jean Diallo, chief of the ophthalmology department at the Burkinabe military base in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso helped train other host nation ophthalmologists.
Diallo’s accomplishments were the subject of a poster presentation during the American Academy of Ophthalmology Annual Meeting Nov. 18 at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, La.
Medical poster presentations are summaries describing a specific mission and its outcome. The poster presented on Diallo details about how U.S. Army doctors are involved in reducing cataract blindness in developing worlds and highlights the SICS technique.
Diallo hopes the poster presentation will inform the public about the collaboration between the U.S. Army and Burkina Faso army to reduce cataract blindness in Africa.
“Our experience has been a very good one. I think a large reason for success is good communication with local ophthalmologists and working toward mutually agreed upon expectations,” Diallo said.
Since 2001, Diallo has performed the traditional extracapsular cataract extraction procedure, which was the standard procedure in developing countries, but he showed a strong desire to learn the SICS technique which produces faster visual recovery and improved outcome.
After learning the SICS technique from Dr. Bill Wilson, a retired U.S. Army colonel and expert cataract surgeon, during a Burkina Faso MEDRETE in September 2012, Diallo was invited to participate in the Mauritania MEDRETE earlier this year where he performed 39 surgeries.
Dr. (Col.) Darrel K. Carlton, director of clinical operations, ophthalmology services, Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash., said Diallo's performance in Mauritania was so remarkable, it prompted him to submit their experience for inclusion into this year's meeting.
“It feels awesome to be part of the process that has led Dr. Diallo in becoming an incredible SICS surgeon. Not only is Dr. Diallo an outstanding surgeon, he is an excellent teacher, and was able to provide introductory SICS training to three Mauritanian ophthalmologists,” Carlton said.
Diallo said his interaction with Carlton and Wilson encouraged him to learn and continue performing the SICS technique after the U.S. Army team left. After perfecting the technique, Diallo handled more than 500 cases in the past year and continues to teach the SICS technique to other ophthalmologists in Burkina Faso.
“The most important part was the motivation to learn the technique, which provides better results than the traditional cataract surgery, which is the main cataract surgical procedure being performed in West Africa. Fortunately through U.S. Army Africa, I found Dr. Carlton and Dr. Wilson who made it happen,” Diallo said.
Carlton said the partnerships between the U.S. and host nation ophthalmologists are stronger as a result of the MEDRETEs.
“One thing that has been consistent is each experience has been extremely rewarding and productive, both in terms of helping blind patients and in training host nation as well as U.S. personnel. The most important lesson I've learned in leading these missions, is to establish reasonable and attainable goals with our host nation counterparts,” Carlton said. “This can only be accomplished with effective, honest communication, and the development of strong relationships amongst all team members.”
Diallo said since the Burkina Faso MEDRETE, he has seen an increase in patients desiring surgery and increased confidence in the care provided.
“The back-log of patients who are blind due cataracts is very high in my country, as in all of Africa. My idea is to build a cataract surgery center doing 1,000 to 1,500 SICS cases a year, and teaching young ophthalmologists throughout the region,” Diallo said.
With future exercises, both Carlton and Diallo hope to continue to treat cataract blindness and teach the SICS technique to other host nation ophthalmologists.
“I would like to see the truly awful scourge of treatable cataract blindness, which afflicts literally millions of Africans, be effectively eliminated within the next 20 years,” Carlton said. “I am hopeful that the U.S. Army, to include U.S. Army Africa and U.S. Army Medical Command, can be a part of this daunting, yet possible task.”