SHAMBU, ETHIOPIA, February 2017

Our ten year anniversary campaign was full of emotional highs and lows. What should have been a successful four week campaign to Shambu and Ginnir in the Oromia Region turned into a battle again with the Ethiopian Government during the two months leading up to our planned departure date.

Our committed volunteers were not granted their working visas in time for their departure leaving no alternative but to cancel their flights and return to their workplaces.

Michael van Ewijk, EFA’s non-medical manager, Robert Campbell, our new CFO and Julie travelled to Ethiopia two weeks after our scheduled departure date.

Despite being advised our equipment was cleared through Customs 300 pairs of sunglasses were taken off us and held at Bole Airport. We are still seeking co-operation from the Government to release them.

Feeling very worn out and disillusioned by the repeated lack of sincerity and action over the past ten years by the Ethiopian Health Department Julie was ready to head home and close the EFA doors.

After speaking with our surgeon, Dr Abu Beyene, he encouraged us to continue on to Shambu as there were many people waiting for our free service. It was also the closer of the two locations we had planned to visit.

Ophthalmic nurse, Aster Degu, travelled two days from her home town, Dupti, to Addis to work in the operating theatre in Shambu.

Given the delay the Ethiopian Government had caused us we could only manage a short 10 day campaign.

Ginnir had not been notified we were only going to Shambu. There were hundreds waiting there for us also who had to be turned away.

We departed in a small minibus from Addis Ababa early on Friday 10 February travelling along a mainly sealed road for nearly eight hours, arriving at Haro International Hotel around 5.30. The last 60 km took nearly as long as the first 200 km as the road turned into a horrendous dirt ‘goat’ track.

Our tour guide from past trips, Adu, had stored our equipment and supplies from the previous trip at his compound in Debark. He met us at Shambu hospital.

Shamdu was not a tourist town so the hôtel and food was very basic.

Dr Zelalum Jamel from the Fred Hollows Foundation contacted us and asked if they could work with us in Shambu. Mobilising patients can be a very difficult task, so we agreed wholeheartedly. We would all benefit from this collaboration. Hailu Beyene, their TT Surgeon, was a very skilled operator performing TT surgeries on the local village people, in the adjoining room.

The Shambu Government Hospital provided us with an unused building that had been set aside for Chlamydia and TB patients in the future. We had one room as the operating theatre and one for storage.

The local staff from the hospital assigned to us were very keen to learn new roles.

Aklilu Tadesse is the optometrist working at Shambu hospital on a two year placement. We taught him the A-scan measurement and keratometer readings. He also learnt to use the new i-care probe to measure intraocular pressure. He shared the room Hailu was using for TT surgery to perform his biometry.

Tariku Feyisa is an ophthalmic nurse working at Shambu hospital. He was unfamiliar with the procedures of a cataract operating theatre. So we taught him the names of our surgical ophthalmic instruments and supplies, and the sterile techniques including paperwork and post operative patient care.

Despite our many hurdles we screened around 300 people and our ophthalmologist performed 90 cataract operations and removed eight pterygiums. He also performed every Regional Eye Block in the absence of our volunteer anaesthetist.

The highlight was observing four bilateral blind people being able to see again. One patient was a man who had suffered a stroke and had been blind for 14 years. He walked independently into our clinic for his post-op checkup with a smile on his face. Another bilaterally blind lady had not had vision for six years .