Five days, 1 000 life-changing surgeries!

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5 Surgeons

Performing 1000 surgeries in only five days is a massive undertaking under any circumstance, but when you consider that only five surgeons will be be performing these life-changing procedures, you know it’s going to be an exceptional challenge. However, tackling the impossible is precisely what we have come to expect from the Elena Barraquer Foundation in their ongoing battle in developing countries against blindness caused by cataracts.  As this is the kind of initiative that we love supporting – making a real difference – Oertli Instrumente AG and Envision Africa teamed up with Elena Barraquer Foundation, to tackle the 1000 surgeries challenge that took place between 10 – 14 January 2022.

Destination Dakar, Senegal

After a 16 hour flight, with layovers in Kenya and Ivory Coast, and a further two hour drive to the coastal town of Saly, located south-east of Dakar, Envision Africa’s James Wright and Francois Gouws finally arrived at their destination in Senegal. Despite being travel weary, and unaccustomed to the scorching heat despite it being winter, the duo were nevertheless able to appreciate the arid, but beautiful and vibrant country, with its friendly people and inviting beaches surrounded by crystal clear water.

The following afternoon – and after a well-deserved rest – James and Francois met with the medical expedition team in Dakar for the first time. Now that the whole team was together, preparations for the marathon outreach, planned for the following week, could commence in all earnest.

Day 1:

197 surgeries, 197 lives changed

The morning of the first day is a bustle of activity with putting in place all the equipment and getting everything set up. Envision Africa assists with the set-up of the ORs, paying special attention to getting the settings on each CataRhex3 just right for each surgeon. The CataRhex3 with SPEEP®  – the platform that is being used to do the surgeries – is at the centre of all the activity throughout and is a perfect fit for a challenge of such size and mobility.

Day 2:

Day two arrives and after preoperative assessments, the surgeries can start. Before we know it, it is 15:00 in the afternoon and another 214 surgeries have been performed – bringing the total to 411 in two days. But there is more to come and the real magic is yet to happen. That poignant moment during the post-operative assessments when the eye patch is removed and the patient can see! Watching a patient’s face breaking into a smile and witnessing the unbridled joy of someone who has regained their vision, is an immensely fulfilling experience and one we were able to share during each of the five days of the challenge.

Day 3:

Waking up on day three and realizing we are over the halfway mark, is exactly the boost we need to  give us the energy for another long day. What had seemed to be an impossible task during the planning stages of the outreach has been transformed into something comfortably achievable. That said, achieving the completed number of surgeries would not have been possible without the stellar effort of a highly skilled and dedicated team.

We soon realize that the team members have found their rhythm as day three turns out to be the most successful day thus far – with 226 cataracts removed on the day, bringing the total to 637. Even more remarkable is how these surgeons managed this feat given the language barrier that exists between surgeon and patients. Although English, Spanish and French are spoken in the corridors, the single, mutually understood language is the  language of care, enthusiasm and professionalism.

Although exhausted, everyone is looking forward to dinner at the surgery of a local ophthalmologist, Doctor Mamadou Boubou Sall. The surgery boasts  a spectacular rooftop view of Dakar, made all the more special by the whole team receiving a gift for their services to the country and some unique Senegalese attire. A truly fitting end to a very successful day.

Day 4:

Day four starts off with determining how many procedures can be performed the next and final day with the remaining medical supplies, with everyone still confident that the goal of operating on 1000 eyes will be exceeded.

At this stage, one would imagine the team to be slowing down with fatigue, given the previous three days’ back-to-back surgeries. Instead, realizing that the goal of a 1000 and perhaps even more surgeries are no longer a distant dream, the team’s excitement is almost palpable.  At the close of day 4, another 232 cataracts have been surgically removed, and the sun sets on a total of 869 surgeries performed and the knowledge that our overall goal will be achieved.

Day 5:

Together we enable vision.

And we did it! Not only has the goal of 1000 surgeries been achieved, but this amazing team carried on to perform a further 60 surgeries on this the final day, bringing the grand total to 1 060. A truly remarkable achievement.

Our team on the ground attributes the success of the outreach to the exceptional capability of the Elena Barraquer team.  Our team and the local opthalmologists in Dakar, are privileged to have had the opportunity to learn from these highly skilled surgeons.

“Our hearts are filled with joy to have been a part of this project. With singular focus and commitment and in the spirit of cooperation synonymous with the Elena Barraquer Foundation, Oertli Instruments and Envision Africa, we could perform what seems akin to a miracle and in the process were able to restore the sight and change the lives of 1 060 individuals.” – James Wright, Envision Africa

More about the Elena Barraquer Foundation:

A non-profit organization, Foundation Elena Barraquer INC is lead by Dr Elena Barraquer. The foundation  operates in developing countries, mainly in Africa and Latin America, where their approach is centered on avoidable blindness and vision impairment through restoring vision to people without resources who are blind by cataracts. Furthermore, they make the necessary tools available to other ophthalmologists to further ensure that underprivileged people receive the quality eye health services they need. Read more at:

More about the CataRhex 3 with SPEEP® surgical platform:

The CataRhex 3 developed by Oertli, is a light (5 kg), compact and portable surgical platform ideally suited for cataract and glaucoma surgery and perfect for outreaches such as the recent five-day challenge in Dakar. Now with Oertli’s latest innovation, the SPEEP pump, the CataRhex provides even more precision and efficiency in cataract surgery. Read more at:

Dakar Medical Expedition 2022