One of our most ambitious partners in Madagascar happens to be the youngest. At just 27, Dr. Onja is already a highly effective cataract surgeon. She volunteered to begin work at our second partner hospital in Madagascar even before we finished the launch of the first.
Onja began lessons in MSICS with one of her hospitals most senior surgeons and received certification in the procedure after work with Dr. Jean-marie Andre, HelpMeSee’s Medical Officer for Africa.
"When I wanted to choose a focus in medicine, I chose this work because I like helping people. I chose surgery because I like to do manual work. When it comes to eye care, its beauty is fascinating to me."
From her interest in eye care, a focus on cataract surgery was the most logical step. Over 100,000 people in Madagascar - many in poor, rural areas - are blind from untreated cataracts.
"Cataract is a big problem in Madagascar for two reasons," Dr. Onja told us. "First, there aren’t enough surgeons. And the second reason is that patients can’t afford the price. They don’t have enough money."
With the partnership between her hospital, HJRA, in the capital city, Antananarivo, her team expects to dramatically increase the number of people they can treat and restore sight to each year. Two of the biggest benefits she sees from the HelpMeSee partnership are the introduction of pre-sterilized surgical kits to increase quality of care and customized IOL’s, the artificial lenses adapted to each patient to ensure their restored sight is as strong as possible. Previously, all patients received the same strength of lens, leaving many with vision that needed to be fixed with additional glasses or just remained blurry. Custom lenses for each patient allow them to return home with significantly better sight.
Dr Onja with two of her fellow MSICS surgeons at HJRA, HelpMeSee’s first partner hospital in Madagascar.
One of Dr. Onja’s most memorable patients was a fairly common case, a 65 year old woman who had been blind from untreated cataracts for several years. The difference though from the other patients was the significant improvement in outcome thanks to the use of a customized lens in the MSICS procedure. After she was treated by Dr. Onja, the patient can now see so well that she doesn’t need glasses and returned to work on her farm. Each month, without fail, she returns to the hospital to thank Dr. Onja and her team for restoring her sight.
For Dr. Onja, medicine is a family affair as well. Several months ago she married Dr. Hinzou, another doctor in the country’s capital city working to increase access to essential healthcare for the poor. They both hope to have children soon, and it’s hard to imagine they will not encourage their kids to follow their own paths into public service through medicine.