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Strong Medicine

String enough of those small victories together and the world changes. Thanks to the HCP’s efforts, the backlog of patients awaiting sight-restoring surgery in Nepal has decreased, unlike in most developing countries where the tidal wave of need continues to swell. And because that kind of success could potentially be exported anywhere preventable blindness exists, the HCP has attracted the attention of powerful allies. In the post-9/11 world, the U.S. Agency for International Development is increasingly aware of the power of humanitarian efforts to improve our nation’s image abroad. After several years of making small contributions, USAID recently declared that the HCP is “emblematic of the best America has to offer the world,” and in 2009 granted $2 million over the next four years to expand and improve the Tilganga Eye Centre in Kathmandu.

The HCP’s success has registered on the radar of the U.S. military as well. Tabin has been asked to evaluate the military’s medical outreach programs around the world, with an eye toward making them operate more like the HCP. He hopes to shift the military’s focus from temporary medical interventions to modeling future efforts on the HCP’s core philosophy—training local medical professionals and creating self-sustaining centers of medical excellence wherever they work.

Tabin has cheerfully accepted the prospect of long days of surgery, serial separations from his wife and five children, and endless hours trying to sleep on red-eye flights. “As a student I was obsessed with the great explorers like Sir Richard Burton, with the glory of going somewhere no one had been,” Tabin says when I ask him how he has the energy to live this way. “I’m not doing cutting-edge first ascents anymore, but I am pushing medicine somewhere new. I’m just so jazzed about what I’m doing,” he says. “I’m as excited about the 73rd surgery of the day as I am about the first.”

If only the rest of us could draw energy from Tabin’s batteries. By the fourth afternoon of surgery in Quiha Hospital, I can barely keep my eyes open.

Our driver and fixer is named Mulu Mohari, which means “strong medicine.” Mohari has short gray dreadlocks, wears mirrored aviator glasses day and night, and winds a dashing Palestinian-style kaffiyeh around his neck. “You look tired,” he says. “The strongest medicine I know is our Ethiopian coffee. Come, come.”

We drive north, past shouting boys playing foosball on tables standing at the side of the road. Mohari overtakes a flockof sheep tended by a teenager wearing shorts and green gum boots, then swerves around a donkey towing a handmade wooden cart rolling on car tires. Lashed upright to the cart, a vision from an alternate universe, is a gleaming silver Westinghouse refrigerator.

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  • Tabin is a hero. Climbing 7 Summits is impressive, but it doesn't change anyone's life. My hat's off…
  • CNN Hero of the Year 2010!
  • a man with great mission. thank you for what you have done in ethiopia.
  • I am speechless and in awe!!!I am a teacher and will share this fantastic article with the nursing s…
  • This is what America is all about. Dr. Tabin left made me a proud American. Kudos, to his wife and…
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