by Michael Mikhail, FRCOphth, Consultant Ophthalmologist; Vitreoretinal Surgeon, Kabgayi Eye Unit, Rwanda.


My journey to Rwanda in April 2022 aimed to expand vitreoretinal services, but it also highlighted the need for robust scientific discourse, akin to the UK's ophthalmology culture, and so we seized the opportunity to plan an 'international' ophthalmology conference to coincide with a visit from five of my former UK consultant colleagues.


A group picture of Kabgayi Conference organising committee and keynote speakers.

Against this background, the Kabgayi Eye Unit (KEU) embarked on an extraordinary journey: organising Rwanda's first International Ophthalmology Conference, entirely led by a Rwandan team. This monumental event brought together approximately 160 delegates, marking a significant milestone in Rwanda's ophthalmic education. Delegates travelled from various countries, with the majority from within Rwanda, but also from neighbouring countries, notably, Congo, Burundi, and Uganda, highlighting the conference's regional significance. 

The conference featured diverse talks covering various ophthalmological subspecialties: Dr Olivia Earley from Belfast, having spent a month training two of our young ophthalmologists phacoemulsification surgical techniques, shared her experience and success story in Africa; Professor Noemi Lois from Queens University, Belfast discussed management of proliferative diabetic retinopathy; Professor Ciku Mathenge from the Rwanda International Institute of Ophthalmology (RIIO) delved into artificial intelligence in ophthalmology and its implications in Africa; Professor John Nkurikiye from RIIO elaborated on the management of keratoconus in Rwanda; Professor Augusto Azura-Blanco from Queens University, Belfast shared insights on maximising outcomes in glaucoma surgery with selective laser trabeculoplasty and trabeculectomy; and Dr Niral Karia from Southend-on-Sea, Essex presented on innovative suprachoroidal minimally invasive glaucoma surgery.


A poster on outcomes of macular hole surgery in Rwanda with a co-author happy with the results of her hard work.

Additionally, a VR educational session to guide non-VR specialists, especially in common VR conditions, was given by Dr Teresa Sandinha from Liverpool, and early vitrectomy in trauma by Dr Piet Noe from Rwanda Charity Eye Hospital. We had two sessions of rapid-fire presentations, both with high-quality talks sparking numerous interesting discussions.

Beyond scientific discussions, the conference fostered networking and collaboration, serving as a catalyst for advancing ophthalmic care in the region. The feedback was very positive from delegates and speakers. A celebration dinner in rural Rwanda followed which included entertainment with traditional dance – an opportunity to experience Rwanda's rich culture first-hand.


A picture of an engaged audience at the Kabgayi Ophthalmology Conference.

In conclusion, the conference heralds a new era of excellence and innovation in ophthalmic education and training in Rwanda and East Africa. KEU strives to be a beacon for education and training in East Africa and to have a footprint as an internationally recognised institution providing first-class eyecare. The conference served an important step in achieving this.

Special thanks to speakers, sponsors, the Rwandan ophthalmic society, and the KEU team for organising this fantastic meeting. Watch out for the 2025 edition!