Zaiba Malik, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of surgery at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, says there is an extraordinary backlog of cataract cases in the developing world that new and experienced surgeons can help address.
About 285 million people worldwide are visually impaired, and 90 percent of them live in low-income settings, according to the World Health Organization.
To help fight blindness in the developing world, Malik has traveled to India, Fiji and Ecuador on medical mission trips, performing cataract surgeries and teaching local eye care providers. She has performed as many as 40 surgeries per week when she has traveled to Fiji and Ecuador. People wait outside the clinic before it opens in hopes of being seen. In India, she consults and refers surgical cases. She also trains and teaches medical students.
She most recently traveled to Jaipur, India, in November, where she was a featured speaker at the 2nd Annual Conference of the Women Ophthalmologists Society. She spoke about how female ophthalmologists can network efficiently. At the conference, Malik was presented with the Woman Leads Award. She also taught at cataract training centers in India.
“While I believe the United States is fortunate with the latest and greatest technology, many countries are actually in the forefront of efficient cataract care,” Malik said. “I believe health care is a fundamental right. As physicians, we have a responsibility to do what we can.”
Many developing countries need help with sustainable setups, whether they are in humanitarian camps or local clinics. Once they have those set up and have nongovernmental organizations working with them, they can sustain those efforts.
Modern cataract surgery that would be performed in the United States is not a feasible option for Third World countries. While it is possible, a lack of equipment and a shortage of trained ancillary staff make manual small-incision cataract surgery (MSICS) a better option.
“It is important for U.S. doctors to become familiar with the procedure if they wish to have a global impact in countries where technology is a barrier,” Malik said.
She encourages surgeons who are interested in international outreach to work with SEE International, Global Sight Alliance or the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Malik’s passion for international health care can be traced back to her childhood. Her parents immigrated to the United States from India for their medical residencies. Her father is a general surgeon, and her mother is a family physician.
“My parents have always been involved in giving back,” said Malik, who was born in Chicago and grew up in Orlando, Florida. “I grew up seeing how nongovernmental organizations work, whether it was packing relief supplies for war-torn refugees or traveling on mobile medical vans in villages.”
Her father also encouraged her and her brothers to learn about different cultures. So, on family vacations, he took the family to Canada, Egypt, England, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.
This is a tradition that she has continued with her own family. She and her husband, Mukarram Khan, D.O., a pain management specialist, have traveled to Belize, Dubai, India, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain and United Arab Emirates with their two sons and daughter. Their sons, who are 15 and 13, have traveled with Malik on medical mission trips. During a trip to India in 2016, their sons taught art and engineering modules at an orphanage and village schools while she and her husband provided medical consultation with four other physicians from various specialties in a health camp. The camp provided mostly primary care. The six physicians referred those patients needing more advanced studies and procedures to local hospitals.
“I feel we have a responsibility to help others with our skills and knowledge,” she said.