Flying from Kampala in Uganda, Aweil is 680 miles as the crow flies - futher than Southampton to the Shetland Isles. The flight saved the eye team days of travel over rough, sometimes impassable roads, ensuring the delicate equipment arrive there safely and enabling the team to spend more time on the ground treating patients.
The team’s first visit was in December 2008. Although they managed to perform operations on 325 patients, many others couldn't be treated. So, as soon as they left in December, they began to plan their second visit to Aweil, in order to help those who had been left behind.Dr Luitgard Naekel from the NGO Award volunteered again to help with logistics. Without her, the team would have been unable to reach their goal. She set up accommodation for the team in the governor’s former compound, in which they had electricity for a while and flush toilets - something that they are not used to on the field.Agreeing with the hospital authorities was much more difficult this time. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) set up 2 tents for their post operation patients (they had previously used the dentist’s facilities to carry out the operations, but he refused at the last minute to give up his rooms). Initially, day one was quite a surprise to the team - only a handful of patients turned up to be examined. The doctor in charge told them that their visit had not been announced, but would be now. Inevitably, the number of patients increased daily, and several more patients were operated on than in December. Only a few patients were left unattended. The team worked very hard - they worked 11-12 hours a day except for Sundays. One Saturday was specifically assigned to examine patients in need of glasses. That day, 50 pairs were handed out. A total of 770 patients were examined over the 2 week period - 445 more than last time. 382 required surgery - 373 of those were cataracts. About 40% of patients had river blindness. Most of these patients received Mectizan.The team had the privilege of being assisted by the MSF anaesthetist Dr Agnes with 4 patients. They were presented with a 12-year-old boy with a traumatic cataract with ruptured lens, a 4 year old boy with a blade of grass embedded in his cornea, a 6-year-old boy with a lid tumour and a girl aged 8 with a congenital cataract. All of the operations went well, thanks to Dr Agnes.In conclusion, the team were very pleased with their work. Around 370 patients had had their vision restored – their lives had been changed completely and their quality of life dramatically increased. The team were thankful to everyone involved in making the trip possible, including MAF who flew the team in and out safely once again.
Mission Aviation Fellowship
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