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World Sight Day 2019 – celebrating the foreign aid work of Australia's eye doctors

10/10/2019

For World Sight Day 2019, Vision Eye Institute is celebrating the international aid work of Australia’s eye care professionals.

There is a strong volunteer tradition in the Australian vision care community and the team at Vision Eye Institute is no exception – many of Vision Eye Institute’s professionals work closely with non-profit organisations to provide assistance in countries with limited access to eye care. Their help is sorely needed because 80% of the world’s vision-impaired people are avoidably so.1

Vision Eye Institute ophthalmologist (eye doctor) Dr Tess Huynh volunteers for Cambodia Vision and Sight For All, and she has been part of Australian Health Humanitarian Aid (AHHA, previously Vietnam Vision Project) since 2006. AHHA provides free eye surgery, eye care, and general medical and dental treatment to underprivileged people in Asia. Dr Huynh says that AHHA screened more than 900 cataract cases in 2019, resulting in over 500 operations to improve vision. ‘These procedures can not only restore sight to people with significant vision impairment, but they can also free family members from the responsibility of caring for their loved one. These operations can mean the difference between a child going to school or staying home to care for a visually impaired grandparent.’

Through her non-profit work, Dr Huynh has noticed there is a stark contrast between Australia and many of the countries she has volunteered in. She says in Australia it can be easy to take good vision for granted. ‘In some of the less advantaged areas I have worked in, cataracts don’t just mean glare around lights but rather an inability to work, feed yourself or care for your family. Other eye conditions that would be a mere inconvenience in Sydney can cause serious disability or blindness in Vietnam or Cambodia.’

‘When we review them after their treatment, seeing the smile on their faces is so rewarding.’ Dr Tess Huynh

Another member of Vision Eye Institute’s Sydney team, Dr Jason Cheng, is also passionate about overseas aid work. He has donated his time and expertise in countries including Indonesia, Ghana, Pakistan and most recently Fiji, where he has been teaching trainee ophthalmologists through the Pacific Eye Institute (PEI). The only facility of its kind in the region, PEI provides eye care training to healthcare professionals from Pacific nations.

Dr Cheng first became involved at PEI three years ago because he wanted to do more in the fight against glaucoma, a condition where vision is permanently lost due to damage to the optic nerve. ‘Glaucoma is often neglected in the fight against blindness in the Pacific,’ Dr Cheng says.

‘I hope that by teaching these trainees about glaucoma, they will return to their home country with the confidence and skills to tackle the number one cause of irreversible blindness in the world.’ Dr Jason Cheng

Dr Raj Pathmaraj, who practises at Vision Eye Institute Blackburn in Melbourne, is also involved with teaching at PEI and was the founding president of the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Medical Aid Foundation (AMAF), an organisation dedicated to rebuilding health infrastructure in war-torn South East Asian countries such as Sri Lanka. He initially became involved with AMAF after learning that the health infrastructure in northeastern Sri Lanka had been completely devastated by the civil war. Dr Pathmaraj says the most important contribution that he and the other volunteers were able to make was training the local health workers. ‘When we arrived, the locals had lots of equipment, but they didn’t know how to use it. Our goal was to empower them to continue providing vision care services even after our team returned home.’

A common thread that ties together the experiences of Dr Pathamaraj and other volunteer eye care professionals is how a whole community can benefit when an individual’s vision is restored. ‘After many cataract surgeries we performed in underprivileged areas, we could see how the family dynamics or even the whole village were transformed for the better,’ Dr Pathamaraj explains.

That said, he still values the incredible difference eye surgery can make to the life of an individual. For some, it can transform their life completely.

‘For people who were blind in both eyes due to cataracts, the procedure allowed them to see their grandchildren for the first time.’ Dr Pathamaraj

No matter how vision is restored – whether it be through cataract surgery, medication or a simple pair of glasses – the difference made to a person’s life can be profound. Many Vision Eye Institute optometrists are also involved with overseas programs such as Global Hand Charity, an organisation that provides eye care, safety and education in countries including Sri Lanka and Cambodia. In one week alone, Global Hand Charity volunteers saw 2000 patients and provided 2500 pairs of glasses to people who in some cases had been living with significantly impaired vision for years.

Vision Eye Institute is proud of all the members of our team who volunteer their time to help others – together they have contributed thousands of hours towards protecting and restoring vision in some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

 

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With over 16 years of experience, Dr Tess Huynh is a highly respected cataract, corneal and refractive surgeon who is actively involved in charity work, research and teaching. She practises at Vision Eye Institute Hurstville.

Dr Raj Pathmaraj is an ophthalmologist specialising in optic nerve diseases, including glaucoma. He is also an expert in pterygium removal, laser cataract surgery and glaucoma laser procedures. Dr Pathmaraj practises at Vision Eye Institute Blackburn South.

Dr Jason Cheng is a glaucoma specialist with extensive surgical and laser experience. He also has expertise in cataract surgery. Dr Cheng practises at Vision Eye Institute’s clinics in Hurstville and Bondi Junction.

 

  1. World Health Organisation website: https://www.who.int/health-topics/blindness-and-vision-loss (accessed online October 2019)
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