Board Member Spotlight: Dr. Anna Ells

At Orbis Canada, our work is supported through the commitment of our volunteer Board of Directors. Each member of our Board brings specific knowledge and expertise from the business, government, global health and/or eyecare space, which ensures our direction, programming and priorities are relevant and timely.

One of these members is Dr. Anna Ells, a clinical professor and retinal specialist from Calgary, Alberta. Dr. Ells joined the Orbis Canada Board in 2022, as she looked for ways to contribute more to the global eye health space. Dr. Ells is duel trained with fellowships in both pediatric ophthalmology (University of Toronto) and medical retina (University of Calgary). She also has a certificate in Global Health from Harvard. Her clinical practice focuses on retinal diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and pediatric retinal diseases. Dr. Ells has a special interest in retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which is a condition that causes blindness in infants that are born too soon.

“Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to teach and train prevention and management of ROP to ophthalmologists both nationally and internationally," she says. "Prematurity has increased in incidence in developing countries throughout the last two decades so much work had to be done to train ophthalmologists in these low resource settings, to identify ROP and learn the clinical skills to treat these infants to prevent a lifetime of blindness. I have worked in many regions of the world, including Latin America, India, China, Vietnam, South Africa, and Uganda. In addition to education and research in developing countries, I have also been looking for a different way of contributing and being involved in not just ROP training but having more participation in other layers of global health, global ophthalmology and advocacy.”

Along with her involvement with Orbis, Dr. Ells volunteers with Stop Infant Blindness in Africa.

Orbis Canada’s work was a natural fit for Dr. Ells. As she expanded her role, she found herself drawn to the opportunity to increase awareness of the work Orbis is doing and to help engage other Canadians in supporting these programs.

For many years, Dr. Ells has been working with an ophthalmology group called Stop Infant Blindness in Africa (SIBA), which brings together ophthalmologists, neonatologists and nurses, to develop centers of excellence in sub-Saharan African countries to train these physicians to prevent, diagnose and treat ROP. A huge part of this is training eye health specialists to deliver sustainable eye training in these regions, something Orbis has made the core part of its mission.

As an ROP specialist, Dr. Ells is passionate about sharing her expertise and helping to train other doctors in the prevention and management of this potentially blinding eye condition.

Dr. Ells is very inspired and encouraged to see that ROP is an area of priority for Orbis as it is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in children throughout the world. The disease, however, is relatively rare when compared to leading causes of blindness in adults in the developing world such as diabetic retinopathy and cataracts. As such, it is not often part of global health care priorities, even though the consequences are devastating to the lives of those affected. “It is a privilege to be a Board member for Orbis Canada. I’m really proud to be part of this organization,” says Dr. Ells. “That Orbis International and Orbis Canada are participating in global ROP initiatives is unique and incredible and will be instrumental in establishing ROP programs in some targeted developing countries. This ultimately will contribute to preventing blindness in children.”

ROP primarily affects premature babies, who must be screened and treated for the condition within the first 30 days after birth.

She was also very proud of Orbis’s commitment to working on gender-based programming. Dr. Ells is deeply aware of the disparities many women and girls face in getting eye health care in some countries, and the impact this can have on their lives. Dr. Ells is also interested in the work being done by the Orbis Future Vision Leaders, as the group develops a network of medical students and residents who are passionate about global eye health. She knows from her own experience that mentorship and community are critical to encouraging more young physicians to take on these areas of specialty, especially women and those from diverse backgrounds.

Dr. Ells (pictured centre) with fellow Orbis Canada Board members, Dr. Femida Kherani and Dr. Dominique Geoffrion, at our recent Board meeting in Toronto.

Moving forward, Dr. Ells plans to continue as part of the Orbis Canada Board’s gender sub-committee and artificial intelligence sub-committee and will also be playing an important role in work being done around an initiative to improve access to diabetic retinopathy screening for Canadians living with diabetes in rural and remote communities.

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