Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM), the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health (VIGH) and the Vanderbilt Eye Institute (VEI) have joined forces with partners in Liberia to strengthen medical education and increase access to ophthalmology care in the aftermath of the 2014 – 2015 West African Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people.
Hundreds of Ebola survivors have experienced eye inflammation and vision loss caused by the virus infecting the fluid that fills the space between the lens and cornea. Survivors have limited access to eye specialists or treatments that can reduce swelling and which may suppress viral growth.
To help fill the need, Vanderbilt is partnering with the Liberian College of Physicians and Surgeons to develop a new, fully accredited ophthalmology residency training program and to build institutional as well as research capacity at the University of Liberia’s A.M. Dogliotti College of Medicine in the capital city, Monrovia.
The effort will be supported over the next three-and-a-half years by a $570,000 cooperative agreement from the U.S. Agency for International Development through its Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER-Liberia), which is implemented by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.
Program principal investigators are Dr. Bonnie Miller, senior associate dean for Health Sciences Education at VUSM and executive vice president for educational affairs at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), and Dr. Troy Moon, associate professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases.
“Building capacity for the next epidemic is essential, and the recent Ebola outbreak highlights the need for better country preparedness,” Dr. Moon said. “However, emergency preparations in the absence of long-term, sustainable health system strengthening may doom affected countries to a cycle of repeated errors.
“We aim to prepare a local health work force with skills in ophthalmology and clinical research while advancing nascent subspecialty programs, in these disciplines towards full accreditation,” he said.
“This grant will provide critical ophthalmic training in an underdeveloped part of the world that has proven to be highly vulnerable to the devastating effects of eye disease,” said Dr. Paul Sternberg Jr., director of VEI and chief medical officer for VUMC.
“The selection of Vanderbilt ophthalmologists for this important work is a tribute to the esteem in which the Vanderbilt Eye Institute is held,” said Dr. Sternberg, who also is the George Weeks Hale Professor and chair of the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences.
The initiative will provide curriculum development, in-county workshops, distance learning, training for community-based and ancillary health care providers, mentoring of faculty and residents, apprenticeships and clinical rotations.
Ophthalmology expertise will be provided by Dr. Amy Chomsky, professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, and Dr. Sapna Gangaputra, assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences.
Dr. Marie Martin, research assistant professor of health policy and assistant director of education and training at VIGH, will serve as program director, and Ms. Elizabeth Rose will serve as curriculum and evaluation adviser.