DEC 2013

EyeWorld is the official news magazine of the American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery.

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December 2013 EW NEWS & OPINION 13 Chief medical editor's corner of the world A Rwandan profile in courage by David F. Chang, MD Dr. Chang: Can you attempt to describe for our readers the anguish of fighting in Kigali during the time when your fellow Tutsi were being massacred by the Hutu militia? T his past summer I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing ophthalmologist named John Nkurikiye, FC Ophth(SA), who is the current president of the Rwandan Ophthalmology Society. Along with his wife and fellow ophthalmologist, Ciku, John organized and hosted the first ever congress of the College of Ophthalmologists of Southern, Eastern, and Central Africa (COSECA) in the Rwandan capital city of Kigali. Attending this conference, I was impressed by the clinical scope of the meeting and the enthusiasm of the approximately 300 attendees from nine different African countries. One cannot visit Rwanda without being impressed by the country's remarkable revival from the horrific genocide that occurred in the spring of 1994. Following decades of animosity and conflict, nearly 1 million Tutsi civilians were brutally killed by extremist Hutu militia during a lawless three-month period. Inexplicably, the world stood by and failed to intervene as helpless men, women, and children were brutally tortured and massacred— usually by machete. The movie Hotel Rwanda portrayed a true story of courage during this tragic period. In 1962, John's parents had fled Rwanda to a Tutsi refugee camp in neighboring Burundi, where John was born and raised. Overcoming great odds, John became one of the few Rwandan refugees to graduate from college and medical school. He then joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which was the rebel force mainly made up of Tutsi refugees that fought to topple the Hutu government. As a captain in the RPF guerilla army, John lived and fought in the jungle for four years until his battalion became the first to enter Kigali during the 1994 genocidal conflict. Eventually, the victorious RPF ended the genocide and took control over the country. Once his family was able to return to Kigali, John decided to become an ophthalmologist and he received his training in South Africa. He met Ciku as a visiting volunteer eye surgeon at a time when few outsiders dared come into Rwanda. They got married a few years later. After working separately in the public service, they now work together in a busy private surgical practice but continue to support eyecare delivery in Rwanda at all levels. John is considered the leading ophthalmic surgeon in Rwanda and is the president of the Rwandan Ophthalmology Society. David F. Chang, MD, chief medical editor Dr. Nkurikiye: This was the most difficult time of my life. We had to fight our way into Kigali from our base. We marched continuously for four days and four nights in order to reach Kigali as quickly as possible. Our mission was to rescue our RPF political leaders and our battalion that was guarding them. Our RPF leadership was in Kigali waiting to be included in the coalition government that was stipulated by the recently concluded peace agreement in Tanzania. We started seeing the magnitude of the killings as we reached the outskirts of Kigali. We found dead bodies and dying victims. Every evening we had to organize rescue missions in enemy areas and we managed to save many lives. These operations, however, had many challenges as only a few of us knew our way around Kigali. The people we were trying to rescue were in hiding and we sometimes failed to reach them. There was no means of communication. As the war continued, the killings by the government forces and Hutu militia became more and more systematic and the chances of survival for Tutsi people in the government-controlled areas became more and more precarious. That is how I lost an uncle and his eight children in the course of 45 days. We never managed to reach them where they were hiding in a convent and they all got killed there. These rescue missions were, of course, combined with intense fighting in and around Kigali. Dr. Chang: The rebuilding of Rwanda and the reunification of the people is truly an astonishing story. How have your country and its leadership been able to accomplish this? Dr. Nkurikiye: The genocide itself happened as a result of irresponsible leaders. The transformation today is a reflection of what responsible leadership can achieve. To move out of that messy situation and to get Rwanda to where it is today is nothing short of a miracle. The current leadership had a clear vision of what they wanted Rwanda and Rwandans Dr. Nkurikiye (far right) with his father and son to become. President Kagame's determination and vision is what made it possible for Rwanda to achieve what it has accomplished despite many obstacles along the way. He managed to instill a sense of pride and dignity in Rwandans despite the horrors of our past. All Rwandans today have equal opportunities for education and employment based purely on merit. This is a clear sign for us to see that the future is brighter. Dr. Chang: After the war ended and you were able to resume your career as a medical doctor in Rwanda in 1994, what made you decide to become an ophthalmologist? Dr. Nkurikiye: After qualifying as a doctor in Burundi in February 1990, my first ambition was to become a specialist and pediatrics was at the top of my wish list. The University of Burundi opened its doors to postgraduate training later that year. When I inquired about joining, I was told that only Burundians were allowed to enroll despite the fact continued on page 14

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