Dr. Donald Budenz
By Vikas Natesh 

Scheie Vision Winter 2015

Donald Budenz, MD, MPH, Scheie alumnus and Chairman of the UNC Chapel Hill Department of Ophthalmology, was recently awarded the 2014 Outstanding Humanitarian Service Award.  

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) presented Dr. Budenz with this award at the 2014 AAO Annual Meeting in Chicago.  Coincidently, another Scheie alumnus, Dr. Alan Crandall, was also awarded the 2014 Outstanding Humanitarian Service Award. The AAO consists of over 23,000 US and 9,000 international members, making the award an enormous honor for both physicians.    

Dr. Budenz’s visits to Ghana inspired his receipt of this humanitarian award.  Ever since he completed his glaucoma fellowship at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in 1995, Dr. Budenz has travelled to Ghana twice a year for humanitarian work.  On these visits, he performs ocular surgeries on hundreds of patients, pro bono, for one to three weeks.  He visits clinics in the cities of Tema and Cape Coast, helping these clinics to become self-sustaining.

“We started out doing glaucoma and cataract surgery in clinics that didn’t have surgeons or specialists,” Dr. Budenz said. “At that time there were only a dozen ophthalmic surgeons for nearly twenty million people in the country.” 

In addition to performing surgeries, Dr. Budenz gives core lectures to local ophthalmologists on ocular surgeries and sub-specialty care. He has also trained Ghanaian ophthalmologists to perform surgery and manage glaucoma patients. 

“The lack of sub-specialty training is the biggest barrier to eye care in Ghana,” explained Dr. Budenz.  “People go to government hospitals and have to wait too long for specialty care, often for months, or they would have to pay a lot of money.” 

In addition to providing ocular care and education, Dr. Budenz conducts epidemiological research on various ocular issues including primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG). Glaucoma affects 7% of people over age 40 in Ghana and is the third leading cause of visual impairment and blindness (after cataract and refractive error). By studying a sample of 5600 people from Tema, Dr. Budenz and his team found that the prevalence of POAG in West Africa among is the highest in the world.  West Africans also have a younger age of onset overall. 

Recognizing the lack of infrastructure and technology in Ghanaian eye clinics, Dr. Budenz set out to create a regional glaucoma center 45 kilometers from Accra, the capital of Ghana. He is working with Right to Sight (IRISH non-profit) to obtain corporate funding to build this infrastructure for glaucoma training, diagnostics, and surgery.  

“We are trying to create something sustainable for glaucoma training and care by building a regional center of glaucoma surgery in West Africa,” he explained.  

Scheie is proud to call Dr. Budenz part of the Scheie family.  He is a shining example of someone who uses their ophthalmology training to touch lives around the world.  

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