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Rwandan eye clinic

An eye doctor consulting a mother and young child
CBM co-worker Dr. Piet Noë (right) with Théoneste and his mother at 'Hopital de Kabgayi Service d'Ophtalmologie', Kabgayi/ Rwanda

A day in the life of CBM co-worker Dr. Piet Noë, who is based in Kabgayi, Rwanda. Dr. Noë is one of only 10 eye doctors in the country.

From accidents to allergies

A little scared, Elissa is waiting with his mother in Dr. Piet Noë’s consultation room. While playing in the woods, he got a wooden branch in his eye and is now blind in this eye. Piet diagnoses that Elissa will have to be operated the next day.

The next patient is already waiting: She has a tumour in her eye. Infections, glaucoma, allergies, fitting of glasses follow.

Only 10 eye doctors in Rwanda

Many people waiting outside a hospital, Africa ©CBM
Patients waiting outside Hopital de Kabgayi Service d'Ophtalmologie, Kabgayi/ Rwanda
Things continue in rapid succession – the patients are huddled on wooden benches in front of the consultation room and are patiently waiting their turns. A TV, mounted on the ceiling, shows useful documentaries, for example, 'How to guide a blind person'.

An ordinary working day in the eye clinic Kabgayi starts early for Dr. Noë. He get up at 6 am, has a small breakfast then goes to the clinic. His work days rarely finish before 7 or 8 pm in the evening.

The patients have endured long trips from the remote parts of the country in order to be able to receive treatment at Kabgayi eye hospital – by car, the hospital is 90 minutes drive away from the capital Kigali. Often, the hospital is the only place to go for people with eye problems: there are only 10 practicing eye doctors in all of Rwanda. Piet is the only foreign doctor.

'The blind can see!'

A sign on the door displays in Kinyarwanda, the national language 'I Kabgayi n’impumyi zirabona!' – 'In Kabgayi, the blind can see again!'.

The good reputation of the clinic gets around – the waiting room is crowded every day.

An assembly line of operations

Inside an African operating theatre (two surgeons dressed in green) ©CBM
Dr. Ute Wiehler (right) operating at Hopital de Kabgayi, Rwanda
Next door, in the ward, patients are waiting for their operations or recovering from them. Every bed is equipped with a mosquito net. Around the buildings, flowerbeds and lawns create a peaceful atmosphere. An older patient with an artfully carved cane feels his way along the paths.

Men, women and children are waiting in blue gowns on benches in front of the operation room. 20 to 30 operations a day are not uncommon: "On missions in the field, it even could be 30 to 50", Piet says.

Operations for eye cataracts, glaucoma and eye tumours are the most common ones. Today, the 8 month old Théoneste will be operated: from birth on, he has had eye cataracts on both eyes. His family lives on the border to Tanzania and endured a 7 hour trip to Kabgayi. “I really hope my boy can see after the operation” his mother says anxiously.

A promising future

Everything goes well: Piet routinely removes the cloudy eye lens and implants an artificial one.

The next day during rounds: Piet holds a light on front of Théoneste’s eye – and the eye follows the light – a good sign that Théoneste can see something.

“Especially with small children it is important to treat them early so that sight can fully develop”, Piet explains.

Five-year old Elissa broadly smiles this morning: he has already forgotten the operation and happily plays with his stuffed lion. Elissa and Théoneste now have good chances to have normal vision and be able to visit a school later.

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