Guaranteeing the quality of eye care provided by its partner clinics and reaching as many patients as possible are still the cornerstones of Light for the World’s work. Such ambitious goals cannot be reached without continuous training of the clinic staff. The ‘eye-coaching’ project in the DRC, and the ‘peer-coaching’ project in Rwanda enable the ophthalmologists and paramedical staff of our partner clinics to liaise with Belgian eye care experts. See below the comments of Dr Jonckheere and Dr Tuyisabe.
Before the corona pandemic, Belgian medical and paramedical experts visited our partner clinics, particularly in the DRC, to provide individual coaching to the local clinic staff. But along came the COVID crisis and accompanying travel restrictions and we had to put the process on hold and work out an alternative. That is when thought about online coaching.
A team of coaches willing to regularly provide local medical and paramedical personnel with advice and counselling in different areas of expertise, is attributed to each partner clinic. Communication is done online via digital messaging and platforms. The coach can also meet the personnel on-site to get acquainted with the clinic’s context, infrastructure and challenges. The Belgian expert can provide additional information, observe and assess the surgeries, propose adjustments if need be…
The first phase of the project has been launched with the Sainte-Yvonne Eye Clinic in Lubumbashi, DRC, and the Kabgayi Eye Unit (KEU) in Rwanda. Each month, the coach, the local ophthalmologists and paramedical personnel communicate online, allowing the coach to give personalised support on specific topics. Everything takes place in a constructive spirit of dialogue, ultimately focusing on capacity building. The results of these coaching sessions are assessed every five months.
In the future, we would like to involve other partner clinics in the DRC, in Rwanda and in Tanzania in the project. Other courses of action have been suggested, such as enhanced cooperation between Belgian clinics and partner clinics of Light for the World, as well as addressing other subspecialty fields of ophthalmology (ex. optometrists, orthoptists, Low Vision specialists…).
Dr Paul Jonckheere, ophthalmologist in Deurne:
Why do you support Light for the World?
For a long time, I had been admiring the work accomplished in Rwanda and the DRC by Dr Staf Nietvelt (Ophthalmologist and member of Light for the World’s Board of Directors, Ed.), Dr Stefan Desmedt (Ophthalmologist who worked at the KEU between 2002 and 2008, Ed.) and Dr Piet Noë (Ophthalmologist who worked at the same clinic between 2008 and 2017, Ed.).
Why did you decide to take part in the eye-coaching project?
At Light for the World’s request, I went to Kabgayi to give training in oculoplastic surgery, a subspecialty field in which few ophthalmologists working in Rwanda have much experience. Having experienced first-hand the quality of the eye care provide by the KEU, the motivation, dedication and commitment of the nurses and ophthalmologists, I felt it my duty to continue to participate in the project.
How often are you meeting online with those clinics? What kind of training/advice do you give?
During the monthly online meetings with the working group, we talk with the representatives of Light for the World and the doctors of the KEU about the expert missions to be contemplated. We are trying to find specialists who can improve the local ophthalmologists’ capacity in different sub-specialized fields of ophthalmology (paediatric ophthalmology, corneal pathology, vitreo-retinal surgery …).
Besides the above, we have regular informal contacts with Light for the World’s team. Moreover, I regularly discuss medical files and treatment regimens with the KEU ophthalmologists via Zoom or WhatsApp.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of online coaching?
One of the pros is the easy communication, avoiding long and costly travel. On the cons side, there is, of course, the lack of personal and informal contact.
Is there an anecdote you could share with us?
Counselling and assistance are not a one-way process, going from Europe to Africa. Last year, a Belgian doctor coming back from Africa asked my advice about an eyelid inflammation. In my opinion, it appeared to be due to a tropical infection. I asked Dr Théophile Tuyisabe (an ophthalmologist at the KEU) for advice. Thanks to his recommendations, we could treat our Belgian patient successfully. Our online sessions create a bond. During one of our latest online meetings, we could even hear tropical rain showers pouring down on the roofs of the KEU.
Dr Théophile Tuyisabe, ophthalmologist at the KEU:
Why did you launch the Eye-Coaching project in your clinic?
The KEU is a reference centre for eye care in Rwanda. That is why patients with different types of eye problems are referred to our clinic for treatment. However, our medical team is composed of young ophthalmologists who are lacking experience in the different subspecialties of ophthalmology. We launched the coaching project so that the participating experts could help us to enhance our technical expertise as far as clinical activities and management capacities are concerned. It will foster our efforts to achieve our main goal.
How has the project been running so far?
Virtual meetings have been organized regularly with the KEU medical team and the participating expert ophthalmologists. Topics of the discussions were:
- KEU’s achievements during the previous period
- The challenges
- The subspecialties particularly in demand
- Course of action to adopt in order to find volunteers who could train the team at Kabgayi.
Have positive results already been reported?
There are already many achievements, for example:
- Two experts in strabismus, Dr Sabine Prinsen and Mrs Daisy Godts, spent a week at the KEU, training our team in strabismus surgery and the clinical management of the patients (Mrs Godts trained clinical nurses in low vision and visual therapy).
- We received advice about management and adequate treatment of patients in specific cases.
How do you see the future of the project?
The coaching team will try to convince the volunteers to continue to meet with and train the medical team of the KEU. The team will also participate in defining the optimal orientation of the KEU’s vision and mission statement.
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