March 9, 2020

Dr. Emily Gower

Dr. Emily Gower

Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health Emily Gower, PhD, was recently honored at the biennial Recognizing Excellence Around Champions of Health (REACH) awards during the Reaching the Last Mile Forum in Abu Dhabi. She was named a finalist in the Game-changing Innovator category for her work on trichiasis treatments.

The REACH Awards are given by Reaching the Last Mile, a philanthropic global health initiative by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, that aims to eradicate preventable diseases affecting vulnerable communities around the world. The awards recognize those who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership and commitment in the field of disease elimination. They celebrate contributions from those on the front lines of disease elimination, from boots-on-the-ground innovators to local community health workers.

The Game-changing Innovator category recognizes an individual who has developed and implemented a creative technology or practice in support of disease elimination that has benefitted low-income communities.

Dr. Emily Gower poses with WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Dr. Emily Gower poses with World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“It was an honor to meet the other REACH finalists and to have the opportunity to attend the Forum,” said Gower.

Gower was nominated for developing a low-cost simulator that can improve surgery outcomes for those with trichiasis, a condition where the eyelid scars and turns inward, causing the eyelashes to scratch the eye. It is the leading infectious cause of blindness across the globe, but the surgery used to correct it is most often performed by practitioners who have only basic medical training. Gower’s simulator, called HEAD START, is a mannequin with removable eye cartridges that helps these surgeons practice the procedure with careful precision before operating on live patients.

It is the only innovation of its kind currently in use. Before its development, surgical outcomes were often poor because trainees had no opportunity to practice before performing it on live patients. According to Gower, things like an orange or a glove were most commonly used for training. Her lifelike design is easily transportable and can turn even remote settings into classrooms under the watchful eye of a HEAD START trainer.

Since HEAD START has been integrated into practice, it has been used by community health practitioners across Africa and has substantially improved surgical training.

Gower and her research team are currently conducting a study of 1,000 patients to determine the rates of surgical success among practitioners who were trained with HEAD START versus those who were not.

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