Alumni Spotlight November 2023, Dr. Gladys Atto

Alumni Spotlight November 2023,  Dr. Gladys Atto


Before 2018, eye patients in the general Karamoja region relied on the goodwill of an international organisation called Sightsavers, for eye care services. Only once in a while, Sightsavers brought in experts to carry out surgical services. There was no resident eye doctor for the whole sub-region, which comprises nine districts until Dr. Atto came along. Dr. Gladys Atto's journey began with a Bachelor's degree in Medicine and Surgery from Kampala International University in from 2008 to 2014. For her mandatory internship year (2014-2015) she was posted at Gulu University.


Gladys was always fascinated by the eye. As a young medical student learning it how it functions, the human eye’s complexities despite its small size awed her. She admits that when she started practicing general medicine, she struggled with a slight sense of boredom –her work did not produce the kind of transformative results that stirred her soul. On the contrary, whenever she saw someone’s eyesight restored after a surgery, a gush of excitement coursed through her. The nearly instant results were intriguing. Inevitably, she was drawn to eye care. Gladys acknowledges that as a perfectionist, her keen eye for detail matched the skillset required for the art of eye surgery. Additionally, at the time she was doing her internship, she realized there was a scarcity of eye doctors in the nation, and that by enlisting in the field of ophthalmology, she was one step closer to addressing the urgent need for more eye doctors. Needless to say, as soon as she finished her internship, she pursued a Masters in Medicine in Ophthalmology at Mbarara University of Science and Technology from 2015 to 2018. She was then posted to Moroto Regional Referral Hospital, where she became the first eye doctor for the entire Karamoja sub-region, comprising nine districts.


Outstanding Work in Moroto

One with lesser courage could probably have been intimidated by the status quo. Despite the daunting challenges she faced, Dr. Gladys chose not to be discouraged. Instead, she devised a strategy to make a difference in her community.


Her first course of action was advocacy, and it paid off. Sightsavers joined forces with Dr. Atto on a long-term plan, raising funds to furnish the hospital with all the infrastructure needed for a fully-fledged eye unit. As the only eye doctor in the region, this was helpful, but it only helped patients who could travel across districts in the region to receive the care they needed. Concerned about the need to bring regular eye care services closer to the people in all the nine districts, Sightsavers secured funds to purchase slit lamps. Slit lamps are a most essential type of equipment needed to examine an eye patient. But their high costs cannot be factored into the budgets of our health centres.


Today, all Health Centres 4 in all districts of the Karamoja region have slit lamps, making them the first in the country to have this vital equipment, thanks to Dr. Gladys' advocacy and Sightsavers' support.

The next thing Dr Gladys needed for improved services, was an eye care professional in every district. Sightsavers took to sponsoring competent person to complete Diplomas in eye care studies. Now the six districts that didn’t already have resident Opthalmic Clinic Officers boast of at least one such personnel. The local leaders supported this effort fully, with the DHO’s ensuring they appointed Opthalmic Clinical Officers promptly.


Dr. Atto's Achievements:

As the Head of Department, Gladys has created a fully functional ophthalmology unit at Moroto Regional Referral Hospital. With longstanding support from Sightsavers, she has turned the department into a centre of excellence for provision of eye care. Since she began working there in 2018, the department has completed about 7,000 successful surgeries.

  • In 2020, Gladys was awarded the Commonwealth Scholarship. She completed a Masters of Medicine in Public Health for Eye Care at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2021.
  • Upon her return in 2021, she received the Women in Medicine award issued by the Uganda Medical Association.
  • In 2022, she was nominated for the awards of Doctor of the Year and Global Health Champion – North Category, by the Heroes in Health Awards run by the Ministry of Health in Uganda.
  • In 2023, Dr. Atto continued to shine. She was named one of the top 22 rising stars in surgery by the Association of Surgeons of Uganda, featured in the inaugural issue of their magazine. In August, she was invited to be the keynote speaker at the College of Opthalmologies of Eastern, Central and Southern Africa (COECSA) at their scientific annual conference which was held in Mombasa this time round.
  • Then, concerning her achievements highlighted on her twitter page, the organisers of TED Talk – Entebbe reached out to her. On 20th October 2023, Gladys administered a TED Talk about how we can achieve universal eye health, factoring in hard-to-reach areas like Karamoja. The Talk will be available on YouTube in December.
  • In November 2023, she won the Doctor of the Year award issued by the Heroes in Health Awards run by the Ministry of Health in Uganda.

With her tremendous impact across nine districts, Dr. Gladys Atto is a shining example of how scholarship empowerment can drive socio-economic development. As alumni of the Commonwealth Scholarships, we are proud to share her inspiring journey with the world. We eagerly anticipate the remarkable contributions she will make in the future. 

The PDF version of this wonderful story can be accessed below.