Alcon grant aims to fight cataract blindness in Africa

May 6, 2009

A $50,000 grant from the Alcon Foundation to Mercy Ships is funding two 3-month fellowships in advanced cataract techniques for expatriate or national West African surgeons onboard the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship in Cotonou, Benin, West Africa.

Fort Worth, TX

-A $50,000 grant from the Alcon Foundation to Mercy Ships is funding two 3-month fellowships in advanced cataract techniques for expatriate or national West African surgeons onboard the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship in Cotonou, Benin, West Africa. The fellowships are designed to complement additional training done with community eye workers and local eye surgeons to help build capacity during the ship’s 10-month port visit.

Patients in Africa often develop more dense and severe cataracts due to the frequency of eye trauma, the intensity of the sun’s rays along the equator, nutritional issues, and lack of access to ophthalmic intervention, according to Glenn Strauss, MD, chief of ophthalmology service and senior vice president of strategic health care for Mercy Ships.

“We believe that teaching these techniques contributes to a sustainable solution to eye-care needs in Africa because they are suited to local patients,” said Strauss, who began training the first fellowship grantee from Gabon in April.

Alcon has partnered with Mercy Ships since the charity’s inception 30 years ago. Since 1997, the company has donated more than $5.6 million worth of equipment, supplies, and pharmaceuticals to support the organization’s efforts to address preventable blindness.

“Mercy Ships’ vision of training local ophthalmologists to serve the eye-care needs of their own communities will help create sustainable eye-care delivery in some of the most underserved regions of Africa,” said Sara Woodward, director of Alcon’s corporate humanitarian services.

During the hospital ship’s 10-month stay in the West African port, Mercy Ships surgeons expect to evaluate and treat 20,000 patients for basic eye disease and provide specialized surgery for 3,000 people blinded by cataracts.