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Addressing the burden of glaucoma in Ghana

Budenz performs an eye exam in Ghana. Credit: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine

In each of the past 22 years, Don Budenz, MD, MPH, has gone to Ghana – first right after his fellowship training and now as Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at UNC and founder of Christian Eye Ministry, an NGO dedicated to preventing and curing blindness in the developing world.

He keeps going back because there is still a lot of work to be done.

“I remember after my first trip, thinking if I never saw another patient in the United States no one would go blind. If I didn’t return to Ghana, people would,” Budenz said.

According to the Ghana Glaucoma Association, around 700,000 out of 24 million Ghanaians have glaucoma, the second highest rate in the world. There are fewer than 50 ophthalmologists in the country and even fewer willing and able to perform the surgery necessary to treat the condition. There is a general lack of cultural understanding of glaucoma, and its chronic nature is an ongoing challenge for both providers and patients.

Even with those challenges, Budenz remembers the exhilaration and long hours of those early trips. That, and the progress made in the past two decades keep drawing him back.

“You get there in the morning and there are already 100 people lined up outside the clinic, which in a lot of cases is just a converted house,” Budenz said. “These patients don’t have appointment times; they just want to get in line to be seen. So, you see those patients, you screen, you recommend surgery for those that need it, and then you go into the operating room and you work late into the night.”

Budenz said many of the patients he sees in Ghana fit a similar profile. Their glaucoma is at an advanced stage. And 93 percent…

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