My Experiences as a Global Impact Fellow in Ghana and India

By Benjamin Long
Yale University Student
Global Impact Fellow in Ghana and India

I had the pleasure of working at the Kalinga Eye Hospital in Dhenkanal, India this past winter as a Unite for Sight Global Impact Fellow.  I had previously worked as a Global Impact Fellow in Ghana.  Upon hearing about the opportunities to get involved in healthcare management projects at Kalinga Eye Hospital, as well as pursue a research study, I decided to work with Unite for Sight again in Orissa.  Despite having very little experience in public health prior to working with Unite For Sight, I was able to learn a lot about public and global health even before I started my programs through the Unite For Sight Global Health University.  I also had the opportunity to complete Unite For Sight’s Certificate in Global Health Research, which was invaluable in helping me prepare for the challenges of conducting a research study in the developing world. 

Working at the Kalinga Eye Hospital in Orissa was a unique opportunity for me to interact directly with patients and local healthcare providers, and learn more about public health delivery in the developing world.  During my first week in India, the Kalinga Eye Hospital conducted a special pediatric eye care program where pediatric specialists were brought in to train the local doctors and nurses, and to perform pediatric eye surgeries.  There are very few eye doctors in the developing world, but since pediatric eye care requires specialized training, there are even fewer doctors able to perform pediatric surgeries.  During the pediatric surgery conferences, I learned about the importance of access to quality and affordable pediatric eye care.  Although pediatric blindness only makes up a small portion of all blindness, pediatric blindness affects individuals during their prime education years, and can affect patients for years to come.  During the pediatric program, I conducted case studies and interviewed individual patients and their families.  After multiple interviews, a common pattern emerged.  The parents would often seek treatment for their children for up to a decade, attending numerous eye camps and eye hospitals, only to learn that treatment was too expensive or that the doctors could not perform pediatric surgeries.  It was so rewarding to be able to see these children finally receive treatment, and the happiness on their parents’ faces knowing that their children could see again and receive a proper education.  Working for Kalinga Eye Hospital during the pediatric eye program taught me the importance of providing pediatric health services to ensure that society’s most vulnerable population receives the care it needs. 

In addition to meeting with these children and their families, I was also able to interact with many other patients by conducting interviews for my research study.  Through my investigation of gender depictions in visual aids and their effects on cataract surgery education, I was able to learn about patient perceptions of surgery and medical care first-hand, as well as the importance of patient health education. 

In addition to learning about healthcare delivery, I was also able to work on healthcare management projects at Kalinga Hospital.  One project I worked on was a marketing project aimed at attracting more paying patients to the hospital to ensure a sustainable financial model.  The goal was to form partnerships with large corporations and send their employees (on the company health plan) to Kalinga Eye Hospital for eye care services.  The corporation could also provide the resources necessary to screen villagers living in the vicinity of their factories and mines.  I was able to directly contact and meet with several representatives for major corporations, including TATA Indicom and the director of the GMR Foundation in an attempt to develop partnerships.  Another project I was involved with was a proposal to purchase a mobile eye clinic van which could better reach remote regions with no local vision center.  Many are unable to afford eye care, but transportation barriers pose just as much of a challenge in providing quality eye care to citizens in rural regions.  I vividly remember an outreach in Ghana where we were unable to screen patients at a village because the van we were driving in got stuck in the mud for over 3 hours.   A later outreach team had to take a boat in order to conduct the outreach camp because there were no other viable roads to the village.  I had previously heard about transportation barriers to care in the developing world, but being able to experience it first-hand was an eye opening experience, and taught me the importance of removing transportation barriers to care. 

While working as a Global Impact Fellow, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Kalinga Eye Hospital entrusted the volunteers to the extent that we were able to take ownership of these projects and function as representatives of the hospital in these critical initiatives.  I think that it speaks volumes of the trust they have in the volunteers and the appreciation they have for our unique skills and experiences.  I hope to build upon these experiences and to remain involved in public health.  Rather than just treating individual cases, public health providers have a unique opportunity to work at a larger scale to improve healthcare access to the world’s most underserved populations, and working for Unite For Sight has only furthered my desire to become involved in global health.