First and only Karamoja ophthalmologist receives Uganda Women in Medicine award for eye health services

Dr Gladys Atto
The first and only ophthalmologist in Uganda’s Karamoja subregion, Dr Gladys Atto, has been awarded the Uganda Medical Association’s prestigious Prof. Josephine Nambooze Women in Medicine award. Named after the first female doctor in East Africa, Dr Atto received the award in recognition of her eye health expertise and contributions to Uganda’s health system.
Eighty-three thousand of the estimated 3.1 million people with vision loss in Uganda are blind yet there are only around 45 ophthalmologists in the country, the majority of which are working in urban centres. Dr Atto completed an MMed in Ophthalmology, sponsored by international organisation Sightsavers, in 2018 at the age of 29. Now in her early 30s, she’s a Regional Ophthalmologist and Head of Department of Ophthalmology at Moroto Regional Referral Hospital and passionate about leaving no one behind when it comes to eye health in the remote, high poverty and agriculture focused Karamoja subregion.
Talking about the accolade, Dr Gladys Atto said: “It’s encouraged me to work even harder and makes me feel like the work I’m doing on the outskirts of Uganda is being recognised. Public health is so important, and prevention goes a long way. More interventions, preventative measures, education talks, and community involvement is what I see as the way forward for eye health in Uganda.”
As the only ophthalmologist, Dr Atto supervises and trains colleagues and attends clinics to screen and treat patients. She also performs surgery for eye conditions and makes in-person visits to people with disabilities who can’t travel to clinics, but her impact goes far beyond these clinical activities. Through supporting professional development in the eye health sector, Sightsavers empowers dynamic individuals such as Dr Atto to make systemic changes and add exponential value to health systems.
Applauding her recognition, Anthony Wani, Uganda Country Director at Sightsavers added: “Dr Atto is an excellent ambassador for eye health. Health seeking behaviour in Karamoja is currently poor but her skills and passion are making waves in the subregion and country. She is creating long lasting and far-reaching positive change for people with vision impairments.”
Three years after her training, Dr Atto’s partnership with Sightsavers continues; supporting construction of an eye care building at Moroto Regional Referral Hospital and a UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office UK Aid Match funded project to improve access to eye care. Having completed further study in public health for eye care, she plans to step up advocacy to ensure no one is left behind in eye health.
About Sightsavers:
Sightsavers is an international organisation that works in more than 30 low and middle income countries to end avoidable blindness, treat and eliminate neglected tropical diseases, and promote equality of opportunity for people with disabilities. Sightsavers vision is of a world where no one is blind from avoidable causes and people with disabilities participate equally in society. It is a registered UK charity (Registered charity numbers 207544 and SC038110).
Globally 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment and of these, at least 1 billion people have a vision impairment or blindness that could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed. This burden weighs more heavily on poorer countries, and on marginalised communities. And projections show that global demand for eye care is set to surge in the coming years.
In the seven decades since its foundation, Sightsavers has:
  • Supported more than 1.2 BILLION treatments for neglected tropical diseases
  • Carried out more than 7.7 million cataract operations to restore sight
  • Carried out more than 196 million eye examinations
  • Dispensed more than 4.6 million glasses
Sightsavers holds Independent Research Organisation (IRO) status, making them one of the only international non-governmental organisations to hold this status in the UK. Sightsavers conducts high quality research to address global gaps in knowledge and put research findings into practice by feeding them back into the design of programmes.

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