Restoring Sight in Sierra Leone

woman receiving eye exam
Using the light from his phone and flashlight, Williams examines a potential transplant recipient.
physician holding cooler walking through airport
Williams walks through an airport terminal in New York on his way to Sierra Leone. He carries a cooler filled with ice to preserve corneas that will be used in transplant surgeries in Africa.
surgeons observe corneal transplant
Surgeon Jalika Mustapha, right, who leads Sierra Leone's National Eye Programme, performs a corneal transplant while Williams observes and another Sierra Leonean surgeon watches the procedure on a video monitor.

Duke Eye Surgeon Travels to Africa to Perform Corneal Transplants

In April 2022, Duke eye surgeon Lloyd Williams, MD, PhD, traveled to Sierra Leone to perform corneal transplant surgeries, restoring sight for patients who had suffered corneal-related blindness for years. Williams, associate professor of ophthalmology and director of the Duke Global Ophthalmology Program, performed 19 corneal transplants and four non-transplant surgical procedures during the visit.  

DMAN 2022 Spring Cover

The trip followed one Williams made in July 2021, when he performed the first corneal transplants ever done in Sierra Leone. The most recent visit brought another milestone — the first corneal transplant performed by a Sierra Leonean physician: Jalika Mustapha, MD, who leads the National Eye Programme in the West African nation and trained with Williams on the surgical technique. 

The trip was coordinated by Williams as part of the renewed Duke Global Ophthalmology Program. Williams and other Duke ophthalmologists have made dozens of trips to countries in Africa, Asia, and Central America. The renewed focus will enable a coordinated effort to further increase research, education, and patient care across the globe. 

Countries such as Sierra Leone often have few trained eye specialists and lack the infrastructure for comprehensive eye care, contributing to a global burden of preventable vision loss and blindness. According to estimates by the World Health Organization, nearly half of the world’s 2.2 billion people who suffer vision impairment or blindness could be helped by treatment or surgery.  

“We believe that this work will generate important research findings regarding the genetics and treatment of major blinding conditions in Africa,” said Williams. “We also believe this work will help elevate the status of international medical leaders to enable the expansion and improvement of eye care abroad.” 

"Most importantly, this work will help reduce avoidable blindness and human suffering." — Lloyd Williams

— Story by Michael Penn. Photos by Chris Hildreth

patient and provider
The day after her corneal transplant, grateful patient Firdauc Jalloh thanks Williams for restoring her sight. She was one of 19 patients to receive a corneal transplant during his visit.
brothers hugging with eye patches
The smiles say it all. Adbulai Kamara and Samuel Kargbo wait for their post-operative exam the day after surgery.
physician and OR team
The operating room team poses for a photo with Williams.

Story originally published in DukeMed Alumni News, Spring 2022.

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