2008 PFIG Recipient Amogh Sivarapatna

Career Administrator

Amogh Sivarapatna
School of Engineering & Applied Sciences
Biomedical Engineering
2009 Graduation Year

Internship: Unite for Sight in Ghana 

Notes on the first week 

My first week in Ghana has been an incredible, eye-opening experience. I was lucky enough to assist with a community outreach on my very first day in the Mafi region. This gave me a sense of how the eye screenings work and the way in which Unite for Sight is able to screen a large number of patients and provide surgeries to those who need it. Community eye screenings are set up in a basic way, with different stations responsible for different things. First, after village patients congregate outside of the screening site (typically schools or churches), the ophthalmic nurse addresses them and explains the basics of eye care and the importance of washing hands and taking the prescribed medicine. After the volunteers are introduced, registration of the patients begins and they are given prescription slips which they must carry with them from station to station. The first station is visual acuity, where they are tested on the clearness of vision using an E chart. Afterwards, they are seen by an ophthalmic nurse, who diagnoses the condition of the patient's eyes, prescribes medicine and refers them to surgery at the Crystal Eye Clinic if needed. Finally, at the dispensing station, volunteers show patients how to use the medicine and the proper way to put in eye drops. This entire process costs a very minimal amount and is highly efficient; thus, the net effect is that a large number of patients can be seen in a relatively short amount of time. 

My research project looking at the barriers facing patients in receiving eye health care in the rural areas has been off to a good start. On a three day outreach trip to the Adansi South region (which is about 4 hours from Accra), I interviewed 60 patients to get an understanding of why it is difficult for them to obtain eye health care. Doing international research has been challenging, insightful and rewarding at the same time. As an engineering student, I am used to applying scientific principles to solve problems; this research has given me the opportunity to see the "human" side of things with direct contact with patients. It has also been a great pleasure to work with a diverse team of people, including medical students, undergraduates, local volunteers and ophthalmic nurses. I am looking forward to continuing my research and efforts with the outreach programs for the rest of my time in Ghana, Africa.

Midway 

As I reach the mid-point in my summer internship with Unite for Sight, I look back at the great number of things accomplished thus far. Since my last entry, I have been busy primarily with outreach efforts. I have relocated from Accra to a town called Konongo, which is about 5 hours north. Unite for Sight has recently established ties with Juaso Hospital , which is close to this region, to see a large patient population and provide its services. The team I am with is only the second group to see patients in this area; thus, as a new program, it is very busy with a high volume of patients coming in on a daily basis. A typical day starts at 7:30 AM, when we leave for the hospital. By 9:00 AM, the various stations would have been set up and the nurse addresses the patients and gives a brief overview of the program prior to starting the registration process. 

A new aspect that has been incorporated into the outreach efforts is community health education. Because the patient volume is so high and there is only one ophthalmic nurse seeing every patient, small groups of patients (about 20 or so) are taken into a classroom and educated on eye health for 30 minutes. Many important subjects are discussed, such as the importance of frequent face washing and wearing sunglasses during the daytime. In addition, patients are educated about several common eye diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts and pterygium and ways in which they can be prevented and treated. Also an important topic that is discussed is surgery and the fact that several patients in the room may need it. It is very important in community health education to try to dispel any fear that patients may have and to assure them that the surgery is almost painless and is frequently over in 20 minutes. I have truly enjoyed taking part in community health education talks as the patients are very attentive and inquisitive about eye health. 

My research project has been coming along very well and everyday I have been learning something new. My time at Juaso Hospital has been busy, but extremely worthwhile. In 4 days, there were a total of 665 patients that were screened. Close to 150 reading glasses were dispensed free of charge to patients and 62 were referred to surgery. I will be heading to Kumasi , the second largest city in Ghana , soon to assist an ophthalmologist with pre-op and post-op procedures with the patients there were referred from here. I look forward to working in a clinical setting and following patients as they receive sight-restoring surgery.

Final Reflections

My work with Unite for Sight has come to an end and I was very sad to leave the wonderful team I have worked with and the beautiful country of Ghana . Since my last entry, the focus of my work shifted more to the clinical side. I relocated to Kumasi , Ghana to assist an ophthalmologist at the Charity Eye Center with patients that required sight-restoring surgery. After the many hours of outreach work in the villages, several patients required eye surgery because the condition of their eye(s) had progressed to the point where they could no longer see and were on the verge of blindness. Thus, to help ensure that the surgeries progressed in a timely and efficient manner, I assisted the clinic with pre-op procedures, post-op care and also the ophthalmologist with some aspects of the surgery. Being in a clinical setting and working closely with an ophthalmologist really gave me a sense of the wonderful work that doctors perform, especially considering the fact that a 15-20 minute procedure could allow someone to see the world around them once again. 

Overall, my experience was invaluable and gave me a first hand experience of what international healthcare was all about. Working with a diverse team of proactive volunteers committed to change was inspiring and humbling. Working with a non-profit organization was rewarding and I feel that it was able to transcend boundaries and unite people across professional lines. This experience has motivated me to become more involved with global health as I graduate from UVA. 

I would like to extend my thanks to the Parents Fund for all their assistance.