The new VOSH Corps placement in Nicaragua
UAB graduate Dr. Ben Konig is the new VOSH Corps placement at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN). His 16-month tenure commenced in September.
“I have a passion for international service, developing optometry, and teaching students,” said Ben, who as a student participated in three skills transfer missions with VOSH.
“On my first trip to Masaya in Nicaragua, I was able to help a fourth-year student at UNAN to improve his ability to do direct ophthalmoscopy. It was a thrill to hear him say “Magnifico!” when he first saw the optic nerve in the back of a patient’s eye”.
Ben’s second trip showed him the value of experience when his group had the opportunity to work with the same class of UNAN students the following year.
“These UNAN students had improved so much that we were able to see 230 more patients despite having fewer students and doctors assisting us on the mission,” he said.
It’s been a busy few months for Ben now that he is on the staff at UNAN. The School has hosted an SVOSH group from Ohio State, and celebrated World Sight Day with a Sight Fair that allowed them to educate the community about the importance of vision, eye exams, and eye health. UNAN also hosted a forum on medical simulation for Central America that demonstrated their enthusiasm to work together with colleagues from other countries to improve teaching for their students.
“I have learned so much from our students about attitudes toward optometry in Nicaragua, the local culture, food, and Spanish,” said Ben. “They are energetic and ready to serve their communities, both by giving eye exams and by educating their city on the importance of regular eye exams, ocular hygiene to avoid red eye, and solar protection to slow development of pterygiums and cataracts.”
Ben says that one challenge he has had while being in Nicaragua is the lack of equipment in comparison to the United States. Without easy access to visual fields, pachymetry, and OCTs for glaucoma, he has to base his diagnosis mostly on optic nerve appearance.
“I would ask optometrists in North America to make sure to support international optometry,” Ben said. “The world needs your skills as most other countries do not have a well-established profession of optometry.”
Ben suggests this can be done by donating to organisations such as Optometry Giving Sight; going on a skills transfer mission and incorporating local optometrists or optometric students; holding a clinic in an area that has few local optometrists or ophthalmologists; encouraging groups to go on international clinics; and / or by teaching internationally short term or long term.
“All of these are tangible ways to help address the preventable blindness problem worldwide, one step at a time.”
VOSH Corps is a collaboration between VOSH International and Brien Holden Vision Institute with financial support provided by Optometry Giving Sight.
The program invites North American ODs to serve in emerging optometric institutions as faculty and program development assistants as a means of building optometric education worldwide. To learn more, visit http://vosh.org/get-involved/vosh-corps/