Mercy Ships medical capacity building program creates an invaluable opportunity to partner with government officials and local surgeons in the countries we visit. For more than 30 years, Mercy Ships has collaborated with some of the most driven, dedicated, and talented healthcare professionals across Africa. It is our honour to introduce you to these Heroes of Healthcare, including Togo’s leading ophthalmic surgeon, Dr. Abram Wodomé.

“I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration with Mercy Ships — one that would change my career and the lives of thousands of people.”

In 2010, Dr. Abram Wodomé was working as a surgeon in an eye hospital in Lomé, Togo — and he was looking for a way out. After growing up as one of 16 children to a carpenter father and fish seller mother, Dr. Wodomé believed his best chance of a successful future was to save enough money to move to the West. A chance encounter with a Mercy Ships eye surgeon would change everything. After a series of events he attributes as divine, Dr. Wodomé found himself walking up the gangway of the Africa Mercy for the first time, ready to join the Mercy Ships ophthalmic surgical training program.

Through months of intensive training, Dr. Wodomé mastered a complex cataract surgical procedure known as the Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery (MSICS) method. This cost-effective technique is uniquely suited to low-income countries — and through the on board medical capacity building program, Dr. Wodomé learned not just how to perform the procedure, but how to teach others to do the same.

His training with Mercy Ships gave Dr. Wodomé more than just a fresh perspective on a new medical procedure. It renewed his sense of purpose and potential — and transformed the way he saw his own life calling: “I began to see clearly that I had something to do there in Africa… that God had given me a role to play in the fight against cataract blindness in Togo — and that change was really possible.” Instead of longing to live overseas, Dr. Wodomé became passionate about changing lives right there on his own home front.

Putting training to the test

In the years following his training, Dr. Wodomé has lived up to his calling — although it has not been without its obstacles. Many barriers stood between him and his newfound vision for his country. Chief among these were inadequate teaching equipment, limited surgical supplies, and financially-strapped patients unable to pay for surgery.

The return of the Africa Mercy to Togo in 2012 brought a fresh wave of hope and hands-on help. Mercy Ships staff, including eye surgeon Dr. Glenn Strauss, worked with Dr. Wodomé to find creative solutions to every challenge. This included donating extensive medical equipment to build out his surgical capabilities, as well as connecting him with the resources and means to begin both a charity and an eye clinic. After getting his facilities off the ground and accumulating all the tools needed to conduct safe surgery, Dr. Wodomé was ready to put his training to the test.

By 2017, Dr. Wodomé’s annual cataract surgeries had quadrupled and represented almost half of Togo’s total ophthalmic surgeries. He continued training other local medical professionals in the same MSICS procedure he’d learned on board the ship. As of 2020, more than 30 ophthalmologists across Togo and Benin have benefited from his program.

Dr. Wodomé’s clinic, Clinique Ophtalmologique Lumière Divine (COLD), became the premier private clinic for cataract surgeries in the country, performing more than 750 cataract surgeries each year. In a continued spirit of humility and humanitarian care, he uses a large portion of the clinic’s profits to fund his own charity venture. By 2020, the clinic has provided free and dramatically reduced cost cataract surgeries to more than 2,000 people.

In 2021, Mercy Ships and Dr. Wodomé are partnering again to make safe, quality cataract surgery in Togo more accessible than ever before.

Strengthening surgeon training through the MSISC Training Institute

While Dr. Wodomé’s training outcomes have been largely successful, limited time and resources mean only a certain number of participants can receive training. In response to these limitations, Dr. Wodomé proposed to enhance the training opportunities by setting up an MSICS Teaching Institute at his NGO’s ophthalmology clinic, COLD. The program will streamline his training and give participants access to higher quality resources to both practice and perform surgery.

Through the Institute, it is Dr. Wodomé’s hope to see improved quality of ophthalmic care in cataract blindness, by facilitating up to 4,000 additional surgeries each year.

Mercy Ships is committed to coming alongside Dr. Wodomé to make this vision a reality. In order to support the program over a three-year period, we will be funding training costs for 18 participants, donating essential teaching equipment, and contributing to training remotely.

Leaving a lasting legacy in Togo

More than a decade has passed since Dr. Wodomé and Mercy Ships first crossed paths. Due to our hands-on training and continued assistance, the MSICS method has become the standard cataract surgical procedure in Togo. Thousands of lives have been changed as a result — and the ripple effects aren’t slowing down any time soon.