When she finishes her fourth year as a fellow in the Hadassah Medical Organization’s Ophthalmology Department and goes home to Cameroon, Dr. Eleanor Nche will be the only ophthalmologist for 700,000 people.
She’s not daunted, though. “I love challenges,” she says. “I never back down.” Dr. Nche, age 32, is from a country of 23 million people, where the World Health Organization measures life expectancy at 56 years of age.
Over one percent of the population is blind. There are only 50 trained ophthalmologists in Cameroon, and most of them treat patients in the French-speaking section of the country, far from the northwestern area which is home to Dr. Nche. In this English-speaking section of the country, ophthalmologists are even scarcer.
“At Bamenda Regional Hospital (responsible for over 700,000 residents), there is only one ophthalmologist, and he doesn’t perform surgery,” relates Dr. Nche.
In 2012, Hadassah’s Ophthalmology Department sent four doctors on a medical mission to Bamenda Regional Hospital. “In 30 minutes, I saw a Hadassah ophthalmologist perform a miracle and change someone’s life,” she said. “A simple cataract surgery enabled someone blind to see.”
Dr. Niche recalls, “When the Hadassah team offered me the chance to study ophthalmology in Israel, I couldn’t say no.”
Although she says it was difficult to leave her four-year-old daughter and other members of her family in the midst of the political turmoil plaguing her country, she understood that it was “not only a life-changing opportunity for me, but also a way for me to give sight to my community.”
The daughter of a hospital administrator and a nurse, Dr. Nche excelled in school, despite the low literacy and school attendance rates for girls in Cameroon. When the time came, she went on to study medicine.
Thinking about her initial experiences in Israel, she says, “Learning Hebrew was difficult, but the Hadassah Ophthalmology Department adopted me. The staff members still support me in every way possible. Prof. Yaakov Pe’er has been an incredible role model.” (Prof. Pe’er recently retired as head of the Department.)
After completing a three-year ophthalmology residency, Dr. Nche specialized in the cornea as a Hadassah fellow. “When I return to Cameroon, the entire department will be on my shoulders,” she says.
Summarizing her experience in Israel, Dr. Nche notes that she gained a “strong sense of self and belonging.” She adds, “I am inspired by the women of Hadassah who built this hospital. I am a stronger person because of my years at Hadassah and feel empowered to improve eye care for my people. Thank you, Hadassah, for making this opportunity possible.”