Helps patients save thousands of United States Dollars on foreign travel and treatment; others receive free-of-charge treatment
The Liberia Eye Center (LEC) situated on the grounds of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center (JFKMMC) in Sinkor, Monrovia, has taken yet another giant step in its delivery of services by introducing and implementing to its fullest range the transplant of cornea for all who are suffering from cornea diseases.
The cornea is the transparent front part of the eye that covers the iris, pupil, and anterior chamber. The cornea, with the anterior chamber and lens, refracts light, with the cornea accounting for approximately two-thirds of the eye’s total optical power.
The cornea transplant at the JFKMC started in 2016 at the Liberia Eye Center, but has not gained more attention as is now being experienced.
In an exclusive interview in Monrovia recently, Dr. Mukesh Taneja, a visiting ophthalmologist (professional eye specialist) from the LV Prasad Eye Institute in India, informed the Daily Observer that the partnership between India and Liberia on the need to improve the health sector started back in 2016 when former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf paid a state visit to India. There, she sought assistance from her India counterpart Atal Bihari Vajpayee for professional eye treatment in Liberia.
Since then, trained specialists in eye and other kinds of diseases have been visiting and are still living up to the five-year agreement between the two governments.
“The initiative began back in 2016 between the Liberian government and the LV Prasad Eye Institute in India. Since that bilateral agreement was signed between India and Liberia,” Taneja said, “one of us comes to the Liberia Eye Center every month.”
He said since his arrival a week ago, he has conducted six cornea operations, and is pleased that all the patients attended to are responding very well to treatment.
Taneja said surgeries on eye diseases in Liberia are of no difference now to others done in India and other parts of the world.
The actual cost of cornea transplant in the United States of America, India and some other countries might cost around US$12,000, to US15,000; but knowing that the health of the people is their primary wealth, those who are well off financially are willing to sacrifice their monies to save those who don’t have or cannot afford the costs.
“We are pleased that with the present collaboration between us (Indian doctors) and Liberian doctors, there is hope that the health sector in Liberia will rise to international best standard and our services may no longer be needed as they are needed today, he said with a smile.
He added, “we are already involved in training Liberian doctors at the LV Prasad Eye Institute in India and it is our hope that they will be able to take care of most of the cases here in the future.”
On challenges confronting the transplant of the cornea in the affected eye patient taken to the JFKMMC, the Indian eye diseases specialist said the consignment of the cornea presently used in treating patients was imported from India and it might be challenging if there is no mean in the future to get cornea from Liberia or elsewhere.
As of the cost, Taneja said for now, there is no special cost attached to the treatment, but it is of high importance that those who are financially capable pay for their treatment.
“In India, 50 percent of healthcare treatment is done free-of-charge, but for those who cannot afford to pay even the 50 percent at all, they are given absolutely free medication,” he said.
The subsidy comes from those who are capable of paying for their treatments. At the Liberia eye center, the same is ongoing now.
In India, people are fair when it comes to applying for treatment. Those who are rich will never want to get free treatment; only those who can’t afford seek help.
“It is quite true that there is a very small number of people who sometimes try to defraud the system, but their attempt does not go far. They are soon apprehended and dealt with according to law,” he averred.
The head of the Liberia Eye Center, Dr. Edward Gizzie, said Liberia is making tremendous gains in taking care of eye diseases.
Dr. Gizzie said while the treatment is free for people, who do not have money at all, other people, including the well-to-do take issue with him frequently for not allowing them to get free treatment.
“The case here is that even the Lawmakers want us to treat them free of charge. Some of them even complained against me to the JFK administrators, saying that I denied them their rights. But as Dr. Taneja explained to you, the rich pay for the poor,” Gizzie said. “This is done all over the world, and the sooner some of the well-to-do Liberians realize this, the better it will be for all of us.”
When the Liberia Eye Center started its operation in 2016, Dr. Gizzie recalled, Charles Sirleaf, the son of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was among the first group of patients, who benefited from the treatment.
“He is the son of a former President, and a working man with a good job. He has the money that can take him to any other part of the world for treatment but thankfully, that he came here, got his treatment and is moving healthily and strong. This testifies that we are now a world class team offering world class services,” Dr. Gizzie said.
He told our reporter that the Liberia Eye Center has an ongoing outreach program, which is scouting for eye disease patients who are still sitting at home because of lack of money.
“We have even made available a car that goes around to bring to our treatment center all those who want to come, but lack the means to facilitate their own transportation to this place.
About other challenges, he said a number of people wait longer than the time they should, and as a result, some of the cases become difficult to handle. This is a problem not only in Liberia, but in other parts of the world as well.
There are six different international organizations, including LV Prasad Eye Institute, Lions International Club and Operation Eye Sight of Canada, who are doing their utmost in helping the LEC, through capacity building and service provision.
Madam Mary Tengbeh, one of the patients, who benefited from the cornea transplant, said she is very happy that she has received the needed care, which has now enabled her to fully regain her sight.
“I have suffered from partial blindness for almost 20 years. I nearly went blind, and wanted to have received the needed treatment, but sadly, I did not have the money for this treatment,” Mrs. Tengbe added.
Several other beneficiaries of the eyes’ diseases treatments thanked the Liberia Eye Center for taking care of their cases, despite their lack of money to pay for the treatment.
The Liberia Eye Center was built through the instrumentality of the Monrovia Lion’s Club.