Maban Cataract Camp, South Sudan

By John Cropsey

These past 6 days, I have witnessed pure beauty.  The closest thing I can compare it to is the feeding of the 5,000, except we were given an impossible sea of blind people to treat.  The eye team of Kenyans (from Tenwek Hospital), Burundians (from Kibuye Hospital) and South Sudanese (Samaritan's Purse) cared for over 1,500 patients in Maban, Upper Nile State, South Sudan, and performed 512 cataract surgeries on some of the world’s most difficult cataracts (lots of band keratopathy and pseudo-exfoliation with zonular instability and tiny pupils - I call it Sudanese eye).  This region has no access to eye care.  The nearest ophthalmologist in Juba is a three-week journey by 4x4.  Thankfully we could be flown in by MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship).


Maban is currently home to a massive refugee population fleeing active conflicts in South Sudan and Sudan just to the north.  The majority of the surgeries were for patients who were blind in both eyes and teetering on death’s doorstep.  Imagine being a blind refugee in a place where food and water are scarce, violence is endemic and the plagues of the earth freely reek havoc in congested, makeshift camps (HIV, TB, leprosy, dysentery, trachoma.…) with over 100,000 refugees struggling to survive in a land not their own.  In fact, several blind patients sustained significant injuries just trying to get to us.

Caring for that many patients in such a short period takes a coordinated, team effort which was spearheaded by Samaritan’s Purse and the Maban County Hospital.  The UNHCR (United Nations High Council for Refugees) provided three commercial buses for transporting patients by the 100’s each day from four large refugee camps and the "host" community.  MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders), the Red Cross and others also helped publicize and aid patients to the camp.

Here is how each day would start.  Examine the 80 - 90 post-op patients from the day before.  Organize the queue of 80-90 patients to be operated on that day who had already been previously screened.  Begin the surgeries while other clinicians would screen 200 - 300 new patients being bussed in by the UNHCR each day.  Here's a video of what that looks like.

Here are just a few of their moving stories:

This mother brought her three children to us, all bilaterally blind from cataracts (note the white pupils in the close-ups below).  Can you imagine being in her shoes fleeing a war zone and with all your children having gone blind with no hope of getting them care?
Eldest daughter
Middle Daughter
Youngest son
David Sawe, Kenyan cataract surgeon extraordinaire, performed heroic bilateral surgery on all three kids in succession.  
The kids getting pre-op anesthetic injections followed by the "Super Pinkies" to compress the orbit and eye prior to surgery.
The eldest went first.  All three had successful bilateral surgery.

Below is a mamma who fell and presumably fractured her hip on the way to see us.  She wanted eye surgery so bad her son brought her to the camp in a wheelbarrow and straight into the operating theatre.  She refused to be taken for x-ray or have her hip examined.  She desperately wanted to see again and wasn't going to let her hip stop her.
Getting escorted to the front of the line in theatre in a wheelbarrow.
Post-op and SO HAPPY.  She only has one tooth so its hard to see the smile:)

On our last day there, I had the chance to watch 81 post-ops get up and walk home simultaneously.  I'll be honest.  It put a tear in my eye.  As I strolled back to the SP compound for the last time, I saw this post-op granny who had been totally blind briskly making her way home through the village.
We praise God for all He enabled us to accomplish on behalf of the blind of S. Sudan on this trip.  I am also incredibly proud of this 100% African team (ok, I am a partial exception but my role was very small), in particular, its talented Kenyan leaders, David Sawe, Jarred and Brenda.   TIA (This is Africa) today folks, Africans caring for Africans.       


Anonymous said...

Hi John,

Very nice to read about the week in Maban and to see pictures and movie clips.

God bless!
Reinier (MAF)

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Jimusa said...

John, so glad that you did make it to S. Sudan, with all the peripheral technical and medical support needed to maximize your ministry there. Well done!
Jim Sutherland

Unknown said...

Hey Dr Cropsey this is Olivia from Wills so very glad to see the great work you and your team is doing may the Hood Lord continue to bless you in doing this great work for the Kingdom!!! Miss you and will certainly keep you guys in prayer!!!!