Opening eyes in South Sudan
February 8, 2012
On Saturday, Dr. Geoffrey Tabin and volunteers from the Moran Eye Center performed 12 free surgeries for The People’s Health Clinic in Summit County. Offering his services to the less fortunate is nothing new for Tabin though. He returned from a humanitarian mission in Africa just a week earlier, making him one of the first western eye doctors to visit South Sudan since it became a country six months ago.
Almost 20 years ago, Tabin began visiting the Himalayas to teach about eye treatments and surgeries to local residents. Thanks in part to the efforts of Tabin and his staff, residents can now performing the surgeries themselves and Tabin is looking for other countries that could benefit from eye care clinics.
"Four years ago, there was a movie at Sundance called ‘God Grew Tired of Us’ about the lost boys of Sudan," he said. "A resident of Sudan got up and spoke about how there was no health care in his village and the large amount of blindness. Through this Sundance movie and that child, word got passed around and Dr. Alan Crandall and I found ourselves in Sudan."
Tabin and his team first tried to go to the region two years ago but were unable to due to increasing violence. They tried again last year but Sudan was in the middle of a civil war as the southern region tried to separate. Late December, the doctors finally got their chance and after finding a Sudanese man in a refugee camp who could be trained and train others, the surgeries began.
"We performed 381 eye surgeries and restored sight to 281 blind people," Tabin said. "We were in a village called Buk Tauyel and were concerned that either no one would show up because it was a two-day walk or that too many people would show up and we would be swarmed by patients. But we had a perfect amount of patients and performed surgeries for 12-hours straight, five days in a row."
Tabin said the patients had a moment of shock when they were able to see again after years of blindness.
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"They would open their eyes and see their loved ones and families who they hadn’t seen in years, it was extraordinary," he said. "We trained the locals on how to care for eye disease so that our work there would be sustained. The smiles of the blind were so beautiful despite the fact that these people have nothing."
Visiting the new country put a lot of things in perspective for Tabin. He called the disparity between the politicians and the residents "Huge."
"These people just want to get through the day. War has consumed the country and the people who live in it. They go hungry most of the time and seeing Africa from the people’s stand point, not the governments, was really eye opening."
Curing eye disease does more than help the blind, Tabin is hoping his visit will positively affect the economy of the struggling country as well.
"I have been to a lot of poor places, but South Sudan was the biggest challenge," he said. "We want to develop a lasting system of eye care there because if a person is blind, they are taken out of the economy and so is the person who has to care for them. helping cure and prevent blindness, we are impacting the economy and the civilians’ quality of life."
Dr. Tabin and others from the Moran Eye Center volunteer at The People’s Health Clinic every third week. For more information on the humanitarian mission of Tabin and Crandall visit http://www.cureblindness.org.