SAINT LOUIS DU NORD, Haiti (RNS) Judith Mesadieu has dreams of becoming a doctor, but her poor eyesight and partial blindness makes it hard to study.
A corneal transplant could fix the problem, but the procedure remains rare in Haiti, which has just six eye surgeons for every 1 million people, according to the International Council of Ophthalmology.
Fortunately, Mesadieu snagged a spot on the recent surgery docket of a U.S.-based eye surgery missions group called the iTeam.
The iTeam, based out of Kansas City, Mo., has been traveling to Saint Louis du Nord for about 16 years. They preform eye surgeries twice a year alongside local ophthalmologists, teaching them new skills and improvements.
Lydia Allen, 66, is a nonmedical staff member of iTeam and said the Bible calls on her to continue to go these trips and help in any way possible. “’Go ye therefore into all the world,’” Allen said, quoting Jesus’ Great Commission.
The independent U.S. missions group also works with Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, which aims to eventually leave the work all in the hands of locals. The Kansas City group pulls together eye specialty volunteers from across the continent.
In the Western Hemisphere, Haiti ranks at the top in terms of poverty level. The U.S. sends more than 127,000 missionaries across the globe, according to the Atlas of Global Christianity, more than any other country. The iTeam is one of dozens of mission teams that still visit Haiti and continue working on rebuilding five years after the devastating 2010 earthquake.
In mid-February, about 50 medical and nonmedical members of the iTeam examined and prayed with 1,145 patients in the eye clinic and performed 201 surgeries, including cornea transplants, cataract surgery and removals of diseased eyes. They also created nine prosthetic eyes and cleaned, modified or created temporary prosthetics for 14 other patients.
Dr. Rachele Amedee traveled from Port au Prince to Saint Louis du Nord to spend a week shadowing the doctors and learning specialties in various fields. So far, she likes oculoplastics—specializing in reconstructive and plastic surgery around the eye—but isn’t sure.
“I want to be an oculoplastic surgeon but I don’t know, because the need is for children, because we don’t have any pediatric optometrists,” Amedee said.
Dr. Andrew Moyes, from Kansas City, Mo., said it can be difficult for local surgical ophthalmologists to get much practice because Haiti is so poor.
“They get out of school and very few people can actually pay them, so they can actually get to practice their skills. And because of that they lose their skills,” Moyes said. “Then they drop back to being a clinical ophthalmologist or a non-surgical ophthalmologist.” But the biggest need is for ophthalmologists who can perform cateract surgeries, among others.
Until the church’s eye clinic is completely run by local Haitians, the iTeam plans to keep making trips, performing surgery and running on Moyes’ motto, “Jesus washed feet, we clean eyeballs.”