Paying it Forward

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Learn how trainee becomes trainer at CCBRT

Rehema, Tanzania’s only certified creator of prosthetic eyes, has two visitors this week. Colin Haylock, Rehema’s mentor, is conducting his annual visit to CCBRT. Colin has been coming since 2007 to train Rehema and assist her in complex cases. Rehema is paying it forward by training Valentine Atari, who is building on the training he has already received. As Colin said, “being an eye prosthetist is one of those professions that you will continue to learn and train in until you retire.”

Valentine, the only eye prosthetist in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), spent three months learning from Rehema in 2016. He learned how to assess, mould, manufacture and fit eyes. He works at two hospitals in the DRC, and like Rehema, is the only professional in his country making prosthetic eyes from scratch. Valentine creates two eyes per day. Other hospitals in his area, and in Tanzania, import prosthetic eyes. While this is a good option in resource-limited settings, producing a prosthetic eye by hand allows the prosthetist to match the colour, shape, etc. to ensure a better fit for the patient. Imported eyes, on the other hand, are not an exact match. “Having a personalised prosthetic eye restores confidence, reduces stigma and helps a patient resume their daily life because you can’t tell the difference between the prosthetic eye and the non-damaged eye,” says Valentine. He is here for a week-long training with Rehema and Colin to brush up on his skills and learn from the more complex cases.

For example, Rehema, Valentine and Colin worked on Rebecca’s case this week. She was involved in an accident where a stick went through her eye and tore the muscle, causing the structure of the muscle to collapse. Rebecca has visited CCBRT for the last four years, each time during Colin’s visits. Rehema and Colin have worked together to create a prosthetic eye that fits her existing eye structure while also building up the muscle.

There is a high volume of patients needing prosthetic eyes, and a shortage of eye prosthetists. Patients often travel for a day or two to schedule and attend their appointments at CCBRT, where over 100 prosthetic eyes are created each year. Prosthetic eyes need to be polished annually and refitted up to five times for adults throughout their life. The collaboration and training model between Colin, Rehema and Valentine helps sustain and grow the eye prosthetist community in order to meet the demand. This week CCBRT’s eye prosthetic unit was able to see three times its normal patient volume: a great reminder that the health community is stronger when we work together.

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Colin training Valentine
Rebecca in CCBRT's eye prosthetic unit
Valentine creating a prosthetic eye for a patient and fitting it