2021 Swift Grants Update: No One Left Behind

Welcome to our blog series updates on Lever for Change's 2021 Swift Grants! In May 2021, Lever for Change introduced this Award to provide small grants to members of the Bold Solutions Network for collaborative projects. These grants allow some of the world's top problem solvers to leverage their expertise and work together to find innovative solutions in their respective fields. We are excited to share updates on the progress and impact of these projects as they unfold. Stay tuned for more information on the 2021 Swift Grants and the work being done by the Bold Solutions Network!

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Credit: Himalayan Cataract Project

Bisidimo, Ethiopia, June 2022

On the second morning of a recent outreach in Bisidimo, doctors from the United States, Ethiopia, and Tanzania made their way through the lines of patients eagerly awaiting their first moment of sight in months, years, or decades. One by one, bandages from the previous day's surgeries were removed as the patients' families waited around the area, crowding to see their loved ones' reactions as they regained their vision.

Behind them, more crowds gathered as a new batch of patients navigated multiple pre-operational stations, shepherded by eye care teams, keeping groups of blind and vision-impaired people of all ages organized. One-by-one, they were pointed to their next stop on their way to the operating room. They would soon be tomorrow’s group of cured patients.

“Most African countries share many of the same challenges. African countries have limited resources, and many of our people are poor and don’t have access to quality eye services. Having this experience with other countries will teach us new approaches to those challenges.”

Dr. Barnabas, Ophthalmologist from Tanzania

High-volume outreach management is a skill to master all on its own. Treating hundreds of patients daily at a high-volume surgical outreach event takes considerable coordination and communication by the campaign teams. A partnership this year between the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP) and Helen Keller International (HKI) has spurred an international collaboration to share the techniques and processes that make running a successful outreach possible. A team of HKI-supported Tanzanian eye care professionals traveled in June to Ethiopia to shadow an HCP team during an outreach at Bisidimo Hospital, gaining first-hand experience of an HCP-supported high-volume cataract outreach.

Supported in part by Lever for Change, HCP and HKI partnered this year to pair Trachomatous Trichiasis (TT) work with cataract surgical case finding and care. This collaborative support, which pairs HKI’s expertise in TT care and HCP’s in cataract care, will ensure these practitioners reach more patients in need through their already existent TT case finding and clinical flow.“

Five Tanzanians attended the outreach to work directly with staff from the HCP Ethiopia team and HCP Board Member Dr. Matt Oliva during the week-long outreach, where nearly 1,200 patients had their sight restored. The Tanzanian team has worked with HKI to treat TT in the Mbeya Region of their home country.

Credit: Himalayan Cataract Project

“The big thing we have learned is the importance of teamwork,” Noel, an ophthalmic theater nurse from Tanzania, said at the Bisidimo outreach. “From the starting point with the patients to post-op, everyone has a job to do and have to work together as a team to keep everything moving smoothly.”

Mbarali, Tanzania, September 2022

Credit: Himalayan Cataract Project

Since their time in Ethiopia, the Tanzanian team continued to receive support and guidance from HCP to pair their TT case finding with cataract screening. With over 500 cataract cases identified, the project’s surgical schedule was solidified. Processes for monthly high-volume cataract surgical outreaches were established, and outreach equipment provided by HCP arrived in the country to begin work.

HCP’s Co-Founder, Dr. Geoff Tabin, arrived in Mbeya to support Dr. Barnabas and his team for their first high-volume cataract outreach. Two other U.S. surgeons helped him work closely with the Tanzanian team of two surgeons, two optometrists, and three ophthalmic nurses to deliver their first high-volume cataract outreach at the Mbarali District Hospital in Rujewa.

The Tanzanian team demonstrated the outreach management skills they’d mastered in Ethiopia, and over four days together, the team restored the sight of nearly 300 patients. The exposure to hundreds of surgeries offered an immense opportunity for Dr. Tabin and his team to bolster the HKI team’s clinical skills and small incision cataract surgery expertise.

“My youngest child is eight years old now, and the last time I saw his face was when he was four years old. My other relatives and youngest son still don’t believe I can see again. They are waiting to see me prove it,” said a forty-three-year-old man who received surgery in both eyes.

Another patient shared, “I can’t believe I can see again; I had lost hope.”

At the outreach, long-lasting relationships between Tanzania and the U.S. teams were built, clinical skills were gained, and the teams showed the success of the HCP/HKI Mbeya pilot: reaching those in need of care through a collaboration leveraging two organizations’ expertise. Soon, both will look to the neighboring district of Song to scale this approach which pairs TT and cataract care to ensure no one is left behind.

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Credit: Himalayan Cataract Project

This is the second installment in a series of articles describing the impact of funding through Lever for Change's 2021 Swift Grants. Lever for Change was born of the success of the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change challenge and spurred the philanthropic sector to rethink its approach to achieving impact at scale. Founded in 2019 as a nonprofit affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Lever for Change has influenced over $1 billion in grants to date and provided support to more than 145 organizations.

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