Working in Nigeria

The real work of FOCUS is based at Mercy Hospital Eye Center in Abak, Nigeria, about nine ‌hours by car from Lagos. Completed in 1990, the center was made possible by private funds from both FOCUS and local donations.

In the clinic, the doctors work with translators and a team of Nigerian nurses, technicians, and clerks. On an average day the team may see anywhere from 75 to 300 patients, many with significant pathology. In surgery, ophthalmologists may perform as many as 25 procedures each operation day.

The facilities are adequate: comfortable examination rooms, two air-conditioned operating rooms, and in-patient facilities for surgical patients. The equipment available includes slit lamps, keratometers and operating microscopes.

Providing Care

Patients arriving for care are first registered in the clinic. They are given a patient card and are seen by ophthalmic nurses who take a medical history, as well as measure the vision and tension. Paperwork is very limited. Treatment, of course, is partly dictated by the limited, on-hand supply of medicine and supplies. The clinic is overseen by a Nigerian ophthalmologist, Dr. Helen Oko, who works with the FOCUS doctors.

In a two-week stay, you can expect to see 150 mature cataracts, 40 advanced glaucoma patients, 10 traumatic glob ruptures, a congenital glaucoma, one or two retinoblastomas, and one or two retinal detachments.

Patients who need surgery are admitted to the hospital, where they get a CBC and urine test. Printed preoperative orders are signed by the surgeon the night before surgery. Patients are moved to the OR tables, where there is a two-to-three minute turnover time between cases. Preps, and occasionally retrobulbars, are done by the staff to expedite surgery.

An assortment of IOL’s is available with extracapsular technique and PC or AC IOL’s. Most supplies and pharmaceuticals, however, are in perennial short supply. Volunteers are advised to bring their own ophthalmoscopes, surgical gloves, and personal medication. We also encourage our volunteers to bring medical supplies which they solicit as donations from drug companies and medical supply corporations.

Getting to Abak 

Doctors who volunteer for FOCUS fly to Lagos, Nigeria via Lufthansa Airlines through Frankfurt, Germany; through London on British Airways; through Zurich on Swissair; or via Amsterdam on KLM. You may also take an American airline to one of these European cities, where you can transfer for the last leg of the trip to Nigeria. Volunteers pay their own round-trip airfare, which is approximately $1,750 with an additional $500 if you choose to layover in Europe.

You will be met at the Lagos airport, and after an overnight stay in Lagos, in the morning you will fly to Calabar and then be taken on an intriguing two-hour drive to Abak.

Living in Abak

Living in Abak provides a rich experience. Volunteer doctors share a four-bedroom house (equipped with an electric refrigerator!) where the house steward, named Friday, prepares meals, keeps house, and does the laundry. Two of the bedrooms are air-conditioned and two are cooled more naturally by electric fans. The house also has a living room and a dining room. And mosquito netting is never needed since the house is completely screened.

Friday takes great pride in his cuisine, especially in the fact that Americans never get sick on his food. Boiled and filtered drinking water is always available from the refrigerator, where you will also find a perpetual supply of beer and soft drinks. If you require additional liquid fortification, you must bring it with you.

Since Americans do not drive in Nigeria, the hospital’s driver will drive you around the countryside on the weekends if you desire.

Volunteers count their stay in Abak as one of the most rewarding experiences of their professional lives. Their feelings are matched in intensity only by the gratitude and appreciation they receive from the patients they care for, and from the hospital staff members who work with them.

How to Volunteer

Certified American ophthalmologists may volunteer for service in Abak. The minimum period of service is two working weeks and you should apply at least three to six months in advance of the time you wish to serve. We do not encourage children under the age of 18 to accompany their parents.

Yellow fever vaccination is mandatory. Malaria pills and tetanus vaccination are both encouraged.

To find out more about becoming a FOCUS volunteer, or to donate funds or medical supplies, call or write:

Marilyn T. Miller, MD
Telephone: (312) 996.7445
Fax: (312) 413.7895

Board of Directors

  • Robert J. Barnes, MD, Vice President
  • John A. Cook, Esq.
  • Ronald Fishman, MD
  • Algimantas Kelertas, MD
  • Joel Mann, MD
  • James E. McDonald, MD
  • Marilyn T. Miller, MD
  • James Standifer, MD

FOCUS is an Illinois charitable corporation.

Contributions to FOCUS are tax deductible.
Tax ID # 36-611-2617.