Battling blindness

Edmonton ophthalmologist leads fight against glaucoma in Africa

Dr. Karim Damji teaching in Ethiopia, courtesy of ORBIS

An Edmonton ophthalmologist is leading the fight against glaucoma in Africa.

Dr. Karim Damji is an ophthalmology professor at the University of Alberta. Through Grand Challenges Canada, a program that encourages innovation to improve global health conditions, Dr. Damji is working to increase awareness of the importance of regular eye exams, expand early detection and treatment training.

Adult glaucoma will affect anywhere from 4 to 8% of the population in Sub Saharan Africa after age 30, often resulting in complete blindness by age 45.
If that patient is male, the entire family is economically doomed to live in poverty.

VIDEO

Watch "Preventing and Treating Avoidable Blindness from Glaucoma in Sub Saharan Africa" to learn more about this initiative.

Patients waiting to be seen in Ethiopia, courtesy of Dr. Abeba Giorgis Although glaucoma is a devastating diagnosis for anyone, for people living in Sub-Saharan Africa it can be catastrophic. “In Africa, glaucoma affects people much more aggressively and at much earlier ages,” explains Dr. Karim Damji, an ophthalmology professor at the University of Alberta.

“Adult glaucoma will affect anywhere from 4 to 8% of the population in Sub Saharan Africa after age 30, often resulting in complete blindness by age 45. If that patient is male, the entire family is economically doomed to live in poverty.”

Dr. Abeba Giorgis examining a glaucoma patient in EthiopiaBorn in England and raised in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, Dr. Damji has an affinity for East Africa and has been part of several international eye health projects.

His most recent is focused on sustainable glaucoma care as part of Grand Challenges Canada, a program that encourages innovation to improve global health conditions.

The project increases awareness of glaucoma as a sneak thief of sight, of  regular eye exams, involves the use of telehealth to capture 3D photos of the optic nerve, expands early detection and treatment training, and increases human resource capacity by building expertise.

Dr. Damji is especially proud of the success they’ve had in training glaucoma specialists. “We’ve used a sandwich model to train people from Ethiopia and Kenya that are now the first glaucoma specialists in all of Sub-Saharan Africa.” Ethiopian blind man who has had sight saved following a glaucoma operation

Since 2006, Dr. Damji has travelled to both Kenya and Ethiopia at least yearly, something the University of Alberta has supported wholeheartedly. “The U of A really encourages global citizenship, because it builds bridges and expands our knowledge. They learn from us, we learn from them and we all become better doctors.”

Dr. Damji gratefully acknowledges the following contributors to the project: Drs. Faazil Kassam, Abeba Giorgis, Abiye Mulugeta, Dan Kiage and Mr. Ayaz Kurji.

More about Dr. Damji's projects

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