> Training for global care: Ophthalmology resident sets up two eye care programs in the Middle East
Training for global care
Ophthalmology resident sets up two eye care programs in the Middle East
Third-year resident Ahmad Al-Moujahed, MD, PhD, MPH, is in the process of creating eye care service programs in not one, but two countries in dire need: Syria, his home country, and Lebanon.
Before starting his residency training at Stanford, Al-Moujahed organized and taught online courses directed at medical students and healthcare professionals in Syria using accessible social media platforms. Now at Stanford, Al-Moujahed has been creating an educational and service vision program in Syria.
“A large population of northern Syrians were displaced by war and are living with limited access to affordable eye care,” Al-Moujahed said.
With assistance from Geoffrey Tabin, MD, Fairweather Foundation professor of ophthalmology and global medicine, Al-Moujahed and Abdullah Sulieman Terkawi, MD, MS, clinical assistant professor of anesthesia and pain medicine, established a collaboration between Stanford, the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP), and a Syrian non-governmental organization (NGO) to build an eye care system in northern Syria, including initially training two local ophthalmologists.
“Many of the same surgical practices we use in the U.S. can be replicated at a fraction of the cost in under-resourced countries,” Tabin said. “The work we have done has allowed us to provide care in multiple countries across South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, reaching patients who would otherwise not have access to care.”
These two ophthalmologists will then return to northern Syria to not only provide care, but to begin training the next generation of ophthalmologists to expand their impact.
“Ideally this would allow the staff to expand and move beyond providing comprehensive ophthalmology care to other subspecialties as well,” Al-Moujahed said.
While the team has established a budget, necessary equipment, and a project plan, COVID restrictions temporarily paused their project.
It is rewarding to not only help patients locally here in the U.S. but globally as well. It is really remarkable and inspiring to see Ahmad’s passion come to fruition. By providing solutions for these children who do not have easy access to basic eye care, he is making such a large impact on their community. He’s going to change their lives.
Despite the global pandemic, Al-Moujahed was able to continue focus on the second project he began in residency, starting a vision screening program for Syrian children in refugee camps in Lebanon.
Al-Moujahed is collaborating on the project with a friend who formerly practiced as a neurosurgeon in Syria and now works with NGOs in Lebanon focused on education. With guidance from Tawna Roberts, OD, PhD, assistant professor of ophthalmology and a leader in the field of pediatric optometric care, they will provide 5,000 children prescriptions for free eyeglasses and refer children with other, more severe eye diseases to a local ophthalmologist.
Roberts recommended using an open-field, portable auto refractor for these patients as part of a larger vision screening assessment. This would allow patients to receive a glasses prescription from a community health worker without an eye specialist present, as there are no eye care providers in the area. It is also cost-efficient, as almost all patients do not have health insurance or cannot afford eye care.
“It is rewarding to not only help patients locally here in the U.S. but globally as well,” Roberts said. “It is really remarkable and inspiring to see Ahmad’s passion come to fruition. By providing solutions for these children who do not have easy access to basic eye care, he is making such a large impact on their community. He’s going to change their lives.”
Unlike Syria, Lebanon has not been as stalled by COVID, which has allowed Al-Moujahed and his collaborators to move forward with implementation in October 2021.
For Al-Moujahed, these projects combine his two passions: ophthalmology and international health. When Al-Moujahed was a child, a neighbor of his became blind from retinal disease as she was left untreated from living in a low-resourced area. Motivated by his neighbor’s grit to never give up, Al-Moujahed began researching vision disorders and soon decided to pursue medical school at the Faculty of Medicine of Damascus University in Syria. This confirmed his desire to specialize in ophthalmology.
Following medical school, he completed a research fellowship in the field of retinal disease at Harvard Medical School’s Massachusetts Eye and Ear hospital, followed by a PhD in experimental pathology from Boston University School of Medicine. Al-Moujahed also holds a Master of Public Health from Northeastern University in Boston.
“Seeing what my childhood neighbor went through motivated me to not only pursue ophthalmology, but to find ways to help those with limited access to eye care,” Al-Moujahed said. “Stanford has provided me with the necessary experience in surgical and research training and educated me with how to provide international care at a lower, sustainable cost.”
By KATHRYN SILL
Kathryn Sill is a web and communications specialist for the Byers Eye Institute in the Department of Ophthalmology, at Stanford University School of Medicine. Email her at email@example.com.