The Academy is privileged to honor Benjamin W. Roberts, MD, with the 2016 Outstanding Humanitarian Service Award. The award recognizes Dr. Roberts for dedicating his career to serve the eye care needs of people in East Africa.
Dr. Roberts was nominated for the award by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He has been instrumental in improving the quality of eye care in East Africa, where the World Health Organization estimates that more than 14 million people suffer from vision impairment. Dr. Roberts has been practicing full-time at Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya since 2006. As one of only two retina specialists in a country of 33 million people, Dr. Roberts was able to increase the number of eye surgeries performed at Tenwek from 600 to 2,400 per year within a four-year period. He has treated a wide range of ophthalmic disorders including complex retinal conditions, cataracts, advanced ocular infections, glaucoma and eye trauma. Many of these conditions had previously gone untreated.
Dr. Roberts has magnified his impact by training other East Africans of varying academic levels — including ophthalmology residents, nurses and others interested in learning the basics of eye care — with the goal of creating complete eye care teams. He has led surgical teams to remote locations in Tanzania and to conflict-stricken South Sudan. Dr. Roberts is currently helping Tenwek Hospital raise money to fund construction of a dedicated facility for eye and dental services.
Dr. Roberts is committed to preventing blindness in the developing world. He has declined more profitable employment opportunities, opting instead to relocate his family to Kenya in order to provide quality eye care in an underserved community. Despite widespread violence after an election dispute in 2007, he continued to live and work in Kenya. His self-sacrifice is driven by an infectious passion for service to God and his fellow man that serves as an inspiration to his colleagues, medical students and the surgical teams he leads. He has truly followed his heart, and the clinical practice he has developed in Kenya has flourished not only from excellence in eye care, but from genuine humanity and kindness.