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Students Develop New Vision for Global Health

What seemed like an ordinary Friday night chat session among Northwestern friends in January 2007 proved to be the beginning of a new model for health care in the developing world. The potluck of insights from Nicholas Naroditski (WCAS08) and Feinberg School of Medicine students Prajwal Ciryam (WCAS06) and Yuna Rapoport (WCAS06) culminated in CatarACT International, a student-run initiative to empower developing countries to fight cataract blindness.

With grants and private donations, CatarACT aims to provide funding and training for local doctors to create sustainable, self-sufficient health care programs. Borrowing a model from the Arasan Eye Hospital in Erode, India, CatarACT plans to facilitate free small-incision cataract surgery to rural communities in Ghana by providing West African physicians with the tools to establish their own clinics. Cataracts are the world's leading cause of blindness.

At Arasan, fees from paid patients are channeled toward free surgeries for underprivileged patients. Arasan performs as many as 2,000 paid cataract surgeries and 10,000 free surgeries a year with only six surgeons.

Ciryam and Rapoport studied the financial, logistic and clinical conditions at Arasan as part of a research project in summer 2007. They then traveled to two hospitals in Ghana to see how the model might be applied. "Our premise was that challenges unique to the developing world are best combated with solutions conceived in the developing world," said Rapoport, public relations director for CatarACT.

CatarACT adapted the model to help Michael Gyasi, a Ghanaian ophthalmologist, develop the first sustainable clinic in Accra, Ghana. Ciryam hopes the clinic, expected to cost around $100,000, will launch in the next 12 months. It will perform a few thousand surgeries per year.

Ciryam, CatarACT's executive director, hopes it will be the first of many future independent "franchise" clinics in the CatarACT network.

— Sisi Tang (J11)

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Courtesy of CatarACT International