Meet CCBRT’s Paediatric Ophthalmologist: Dr Sonia

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Learn how Dr Sonia is investing in the future of children’s eye health in Tanzania

Starting out as a general ophthalmologist – a specialist in medical and surgical eye disease – Dr Sonia has grown tremendously in her six years at CCBRT. In Tanzania there is only one ophthalmologist per million people and only three referral facilities offering these services specifically for children. CCBRT’s paediatric ophthalmology clinic sees 80-100 children per clinic day and performs 10-12 surgeries per surgery day, making it one of the hospital’s busiest units. The Ophthalmology Department performed over 6,000 eye surgeries and almost 70,000 consultations in 2017 alone. So what makes a department in such high demand operate so efficiently? Strong leadership, great teamwork and a learning culture, says Dr Sonia.

Over the last two months especially, Dr Sonia has embodied CCBRT’s learning culture. In September and October of this year, Dr Rita Ohri, Dr Sonia’s long-time mentor, came to CCBRT for her sixth visit. Dr Rita is a technical and capacity building partner of our paediatric eye clinic, providing intensive training to Dr Sonia for six months in 2013. This ongoing collaboration has strengthened Dr Sonia’s skills, allowing CCBRT to treat the most complicated eye conditions in children from every corner of Tanzania.

Dr Rita was not Dr Sonia’s only visitor this year. In September, Dr Joe Abbott – a paediatric ophthalmologist based at Birmingham Children’s Hospital in the U.K. – visited CCBRT to assess Dr Sonia’s capacity. Dr Joe was impressed by Dr Sonia’s skills and commitment to the growth of her department and her skillset. Dr Joe said, “During my visit, I saw the trust that she has built with patients and her team. In addition to being well liked and respected, Dr Sonia is always thinking about how to improve systems and processes. She is a great teacher.” We hope that Dr Joe’s report on the assessment will enable Dr Sonia to get officially recognised as a paediatric ophthalmologist and qualified trainer for ophthalmology fellows.

All three doctors recognise CCBRT’s stake in developing the next generation of paediatric ophthalmologists in Tanzania. To manage an increasing patient load, CCBRT – and the broader Tanzanian health system – need more specialists in this area. How are Dr Sonia, Dr Rita and Dr Joe working together to increase the number of paediatric ophthalmologists nationwide?

The partners envision a fellowship programme based at CCBRT to train up-and-coming eye health professionals. Thanks to the circle of skill sharing between these doctors, a fellowship programme would address the need for paediatric ophthalmologists in Tanzania and beyond. Dr Joe expressed that, in the short term, he would like to continue to support Dr Sonia through remote patient consultations. In the long term, he would like to support the development of the fellowship programme by linking it to his own place of work, Birmingham Children’s Hospital. This would allow fellows from both institutions to see a variety of paediatric cases and gain access to a wide array of trainings and resources.

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Dr Sonia (middle) with Dr Joe and Dr Rita at CCBRT