My name is Dr Moira Chinthambi and I’m an ophthalmologist in Malawi.
I qualified in 2018 and work in Lilongwe, which is Malawi’s capital city, at Kamuzu Central Hospital, one of the main referral hospitals in the country.
I work as part of Sightsavers’ inclusive eye health programme which is funded by the UK government through UK Aid Match. I also received a scholarship for my training through Sightsavers, so I feel like a Sightsavers baby!
I wake up at around 5am and the first thing I do is say my morning prayers, then take a shower and prepare breakfast for my husband and daughter. Around 6.40am, I leave home and drop my daughter off at school. She’s 10 years old and loves going to school. She also loves playing chess which I find very impressive as I never had the patience to learn!
I arrive at work around 7.30am. Being the capital city, Lilongwe has a lot of traffic in the morning so it takes some time to get around. When I get to work, we have a handover meeting and then the day depends on what I’m doing. If I’m doing outreach surgeries, I’m out the whole day at community hospitals.
If it’s a clinic day, I see around 20-30 patients. Most of the time, my clinic is a paediatric eye clinic. I love kids – we only have one paediatric ophthalmologist for the whole country, and I intend to be the second one. I’m hoping the opportunity arises for me to train.
When I go home, it’s around 6pm, depending on traffic. I start preparing supper while helping my daughter with her homework. After this, I get time to myself. This is when I reflect on the day. To just sit down and think whether I made a difference today or not. But I also love to read; mystery novels are my favourite.
In my free time, I like to travel a lot and I like to visit Lake Malawi. I grew up on a farm so have a love for nature: I love the outdoors, I’m a picnic kind of person and I do a little bit of hiking. I like some quiet time to relax, recharge and focus. I don’t like the noise or the hustle and bustle of town. It’s probably why I enjoy ophthalmology because it’s just me, the patient and my operating microscope. We need silence. It really fits in with my personality.
When I was in high school, my grandfather was struggling with poor vision. We took him to the hospital and were told that he had cataracts in both eyes. At the time, I didn’t know what cataracts were or what the treatment was, but he ended up getting surgery.
The following day, we went back to the hospital so they could remove the dressing and he could see. I was so shocked. He was jumping up and down, so excited that he could see. The glow on his face inspired me to become an ophthalmologist.
For me, it was the feeling that someone could have a problem one day but then you intervene and 24 hours later, the problem is gone – sometimes with a 10-15 minute surgery. I thought if I became an ophthalmologist, I could do a lot in such a little time.
It’s an amazing feeling. It’s exciting. You really feel that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life. There’s that patient satisfaction, immediate gratification. It’s very rewarding. You don’t need to ask the patient, “Are you happy?” You just need to look at their facial expression.
I think eye health is important because it gives us a level of independence and freedom. When I do outreach work, I see many patients who are dependent on little kids and this deprives the children of the right to go to school. So instead of going to school, they are busy looking after their grandma, cooking for her, taking her around and it becomes such a burden on the little ones.
But this inclusive eye health project is making a huge difference. It aims to prevent avoidable blindness in people with and without disabilities. It provides the resources for someone like me to go into communities and conduct outreach clinics and surgeries. This project has helped all those people who would have been blind for the rest of their lives because they could not manage to come to the hospital. The project has helped us bring eye health services to where they are. This means people can become more productive, they can go about their lives and earn a living.
It also means that all the financial difficulties of transport that people face are gone. Our ambulances and buses go and pick patients up, bring them to the hospital and then take them home.
This project is also helping us with lobbying and advocating. Our work and the importance of eye health is now known and everybody in the communities we serve associates eye health with UK Aid Match and Sightsavers.
But I think we need to increase awareness and sensitisation. We need to encourage health-seeking behaviours and then more people will come to the hospital, earlier, before their condition worsens. We need to keep the dialogue on eye health going and keep engaging chiefs and village headmen. I would also like to see more resources and funding which will provide more drugs, more trained professionals and more health care centres. If we also train more eye health workers then we’re able to go into the most remote places and bring the eye services to them through mobile clinics. We can also have more mobile outreach surgeries.
What has been done so far has made a huge difference in the lives of so many people. I hope, in the future, we may have similar projects.
Apart from helping patients, training health care workers like me was part of the project. This training has been like an eye opener.
I’ve had gender and disability inclusion training. The Women’s Legal Resources Centre (WOLREC) led the gender training. I learned that gender equity is important and that the needs of a female patient may be different from the needs of a male patient – and how to factor this into day-to-day activities.
The disability training also opened my eyes. I realised that our hospital is accessible, but not that accessible. So we need to improve our hospital infrastructure and make it more disability friendly.
The training has also changed how we do outreach screenings. We work hand in hand with the Federation of Disability Organizations in Malawi (FEDOMA). They have a record of all the people with disabilities in each community. Now when we go to communities, we emphasise that we also want to screen people with disabilities. Before this, people with disabilities tended to be left at home because it was seen as a hassle to bring them. But now more people with disabilities are coming to the outreach screenings.