Wills Eye Global Fellow reflects on this years’ travel, experience, achievements and the pandemic


At the end of February, I arrived home from a 2-month trip working with partners in Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Lesotho. Over the course of those two months, the world had changed considerably. When I left Philadelphia, news of a novel coronavirus was still unknown and isolated to Wuhan, China. By the time I was making my way home, however, the airports were burdened with endless lines for health screening and immigration checkpoints. Once the WHO elevated the status of the crisis to a pandemic, all international travel was paused and boarders were closed signaling an unfortunate end to the international portion of this fellowship experience. That is not to say, however, that our work towards promoting academic global ophthalmology cannot be continued domestically.

Time has yet to show the permeating effects this pandemic will have and one of the potentially-overlooked consequences of this crisis is its effect on medical training. With non-essential medical care on hold, ophthalmology residents are struggling to secure adequate surgical training for largely elective procedures such as cataract surgery. A similar effect has been felt by our partner institutions and countless training programs around the world. Wills Eye fellowOur partners abroad are certainly in our thoughts as they cope with the stresses the pandemic places on the community, the healthcare system and the economy. From our end, with the assistance of live-streaming lectures and surgical videos, we are still trying to do what we can to help with didactical training for our partners at the Rwanda International Institute of Ophthalmology (RIIO). Perhaps a “silver-lining” to how the pandemic has affected medical training: the social distancing restrictions of today’s world have demonstrated to us how technology is making collaboration and education accessible from the safety of quarantined living rooms around the globe. Being flexible and accepting to these modifications opens the door to endless potential collaborations with colleagues both domestic and abroad. While the pandemic will eventually come to an end, some of what we’ve learned from this experience will hopefully endure as we continue to explore how we can exploit technology to further the field and make tele-medicine more accessible to our partners.

This will likely be my final post as the AGO fellow but certainly not the end of my career in academic global ophthalmology. Next year, I will be staying at Wills and I look forward to working with our future fellows and furthering initiatives with our global partners. Omair Ali will be taking my place come July, I am excited for him to embark on this incredible training experience.