Blinded by the virus, ophthalmologists saved by gifts

When Thol lost her sight, her husband abandoned her. She spent her days being guided by her young children while her eldest son fished to feed his family.

With the help of the Fred Hollows Foundation, Thol was blessed with surgery that had the potential to restore his sight. When the bandages were finally removed from her eyes, she smiled and showed her children one by one, according to a video produced by the foundation in 2016.

In the video, Thol says of his youngest son, “He’s fat! I am so happy with my successful surgery. . . this new year, I’m dancing!

Recovering her sight, she was able to resume selling vegetables and support her family.

Cataract has been identified as the leading cause of preventable blindness in Cambodia and cataract cases have increased over the past 10 years.

“Of all causes of blindness in Cambodia, 92.2% are preventable, 80.9% are treatable, 5.9% are preventable with primary health care and/or primary eye care, and 5.4% are preventable through more advanced ophthalmic services,” said Aildrene Israel S Tan, the foundation’s global communications coordinator.

Tan cited a 2019 report from Cambodia’s Rapid National Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB), saying that if cataract surgery services continued to expand at their current rate, the number of cataract patients would double. or triple between 2019 and 2030.

He said blindness can be prevented by having regular eye checks and undergoing surgery for cataracts.

Australian ophthalmologist Fred Hollows founded his eponymous foundation in 1992 to ensure his contributions to the eye health industry would continue into the future.

Today, the foundation works in more than 25 countries, including Cambodia, and has restored sight to more than two and a half million people worldwide.

X-rays were used instead of proper prevention equipment. Meas Kim San

“Beginning in Cambodia in 1998, the foundation was established to support government partners to establish the Cambodian Society of Ophthalmology, conduct Cambodia’s national Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) survey in 2007 and 2019 and to establish a residency training program in ophthalmology,” Tan said.

They have set up a national training program in refraction and a training program for nurses in ophthalmology, developed the National Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Blindness, included eye health in the minimum national package of primary health care and supported the creation of numerous ophthalmological units in provincial reference hospitals.

When Covid-19 emerged, it damaged the health sector and reduced people’s access to many health services, including eye care.

As eye care services were considered essential, they were not completely shut down during the pandemic.

To continue the important sight-saving work, the foundation provided technical support to hospitals and eye units in Cambodia.

However, says Tan, service providers and hospitals have faced challenges in preventing cross-contamination of Covid-19. They needed more protective equipment to adapt to the “new normal”, in accordance with the recommendations of the Ministry of Health.

Amid the crisis, the Australian government has donated protective equipment including surgical masks, alcohol sanitizer, slit lamp eye shields, face shields, safety glasses and N95 masks. .

Australian Ambassador to Cambodia Pablo Kang said: “I am very pleased with the emergency donations to support eye services during Covid-19. Together with the Fred Hollows Foundation and Sight For All, we donated 25,000 surgical masks and nearly 1,000 liters of alcohol-based sanitizer.

“It’s another example of how Australian aid is adapting in these uncertain times.”

Donations have also enabled the foundation to conduct risk assessments at eye health clinics, train eye health professionals and disseminate information to the public.

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Face shields were an urgent need for eye health doctors. Meas Kim San

Professor Ngy Meng, Director of the National Eye Health Program (NPEH), said: “Your support goes a long way towards our progress in ensuring the safety of eye health personnel and their working environments.

The foundation has worked with NPEH to adapt and provide eye services throughout all four stages of the country’s Covid-19 response – prevention, detection, containment and treatment.

According to a report by the World Health Organization, four out of five blind people in the world could regain their sight with adequate treatment.

However, people with eye conditions are at risk of going blind if not treated immediately.

Dr You Piseth, an NPEH representative in ophthalmology, said: “The donations are coming at the right time so that the healthcare staff can move forward and continue their practice. Having protective equipment and supplies will protect healthcare workers and patients from the risk of contracting the virus.

The donations will benefit approximately 250 eye health personnel at national and provincial referral hospitals. With all safety measures in place, 6,120 patients are expected to receive eye health services as Cambodia enters the new normal, according to a report from the foundation.

The foundation’s Country Director in Cambodia, Tokyo Bak, said, “We would like to express our sincere thanks to all of our donors who have shown great flexibility and allowed us to pivot and allocate budget to support the fight against Covid-19.

“Your donation is greatly appreciated. This has given us the capacity to respond to Covid-19 in countries like Cambodia, where the needs are greater and the resources fewer.

Before receiving protective equipment, some health personnel invented unusual solutions to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19. They used x-ray films as a protective shield for the slit lamps, and many patients were uncomfortable looking at their doctor through an x-ray of someone’s ribs.

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This ophthalmology nurse used a protective shield donated for this slit lamp instead of x-ray film. Meas Kim San

Dr Sea Mean Viseth, Ophthalmologist at Kandal Eye Unit in Kandal Province, said: “The donation is timely and allows us to continue our work at this stage. We are committed to providing eye care services and we will do so in a safe and disease-free manner. »

Dr Kak Seiha, head of Battambang Provincial Referral Hospital, said: “The protective equipment will help us fulfill our responsibility as doctors and nurses, and reinforce our image of providing safe and healthy services. To the population”.

The foundation works with the Ministry of Health, NPEH and provincial health departments to improve eye health services in the Kingdom.

“Cambodians can access eye care services at public health facilities, including their respective provincial eye units,” Tan said.

According to the foundation’s 2019 report, 45,352 Cambodians were screened and 6,465 eye operations and treatments were performed, including 4,268 cataract operations.

For those wishing to send in their donations, they can access the Fred Hollows Foundation website: