Dr Lana Fu, during one of her operating sessions

Where a World of Strangers Meet

April 2024
Volunteer story

Where did you hear about Tshemba?

I was approached by Tshemba to consider applying for the volunteer programme. Having never heard of Tshemba before, I looked up the organisation and was very impressed with the work they have been doing and promptly signed up.

What impact do Tshemba volunteers make in the local communities and healthcare system in the area?

The individual impact is dependent on each volunteer’s skillset and experience. Although there is a visible lack of resources, there are modern equipment in the eye clinic which can be used for screening, diagnostics, and surgical treatment like my usual practice in the UK. As an example, the hospital has the same phaco machine that I normally use (Alcon Centurion), and I was able to use the Oertli CataRex3 as well. Finally, there is the opportunity for teaching; the eye clinic slit lamp had a teaching arm, allowing an observer to see and discuss clinical signs of the patients being examined.

How did volunteering with Tshemba benefit you?

The experience highlighted to me why I chose ophthalmology and my subspecialty interest (cornea and external eye diseases). It showed me the need for experts in this field given the demand and pathology that exist.

I also benefited and improved my clinical skillset as I had to solve problems pragmatically and independently, without the resources I would normally benefit from in the UK.

Would you recommend that other ophthalmologists volunteer with Tshemba? What advice about volunteering would you offer to them?

I can very much recommend the experience. It is an opportunity to practice ophthalmology in a different setting, which will challenge you in a variety of ways. There is also only 1 hours’ time zone difference.

If going for the first time, I would suggest having a chat with previous Tshemba volunteers. Additionally, there are helpful online resources that Tshema will grant access to once your placement is confirmed. 

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A few cases from the eye clinic

Did you feel well prepared and supported by Tshemba when you were with us?

Absolutely, the team were great with onboarding, arranging paperwork, in hospital, and with arranging transport between the accommodation and the eye clinic.

Can you share a specific success story or positive outcome resulting from your time at Tshemba?

A young patient had an unusual lesion on the surface of their eye which was progressive and symptomatic. I ended up searching the worldwide evidence base to formulate the best technique for treatment, which was successful. The patient’s symptoms and unaided vision improved after surgery. Managing this case showed me that you can make a difference even in a low-resource setting.

What was the highlight of your volunteer experience?

Having the opportunity to share the volunteering experience with other medical colleagues from around the world. The non-clinical highlight was experiencing my first proper Braai during the Rugby World Cup!

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Volunteers gather around the fire for a braai during the Rugby World Cup
(which South Africa won!)


Written by Dr Lana Fu, Ophthalmologist from the UK