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Laos Blind to Benefit from Kiwi Ophthalmologist’s Expertise

Laos Blind to Benefit from Kiwi Ophthalmologist’s Expertise

By Fleur Revell
31 January 2014

An Auckland Eye ophthalmologist has lent his experience to Laos eye surgeons in a bid to address the population’s escalating number of preventative eye diseases.

Dr Stuart Carroll visited Vientiane to run paediatric eye clinics, pass on best practice techniques and up-skill local eye surgeons.

Dr Carroll says Vientiane has just five ophthalmologists to care for the city’s population of 700,000.

He says doctors working there earn just USD$100-150 per month so it is hard to retain medical expertise.

Poverty dictates that people with eye disease often present late, if at all, to the very few clinics available in what is very much a User Pays society, he says.

“I knew that it was going to be basic, but had little idea of exactly what else to expect. I also knew the basics of paediatric ophthalmology were not well understood, that there was no public health system and so babies and children often presented late with advanced forms of disease that could have been treated if they had presented earlier.”

Dr Carroll says while there is a high demand for ophthalmology care a lot of patients simply cannot afford it.

He says most of the equipment is donated and antiquated, the facilities rudimentary by NZ and Australian standards and the knowledge and training of a different level.

Patients can travel up to 10 hours to attend a clinic so the 20 bed ophthalmology unit has to cater for not just surgical care, but post-operative patient care spanning several days as well.

“I was shocked by what I saw. Although I planned to do a lot of surgery, that wasn’t possible due to a lack of anaesthesia. Instead, I did a lot of training and assessments and introduced new and improved examination techniques as well as treatment options for less common eye diseases that are less likely to be treated when resources are scarce.

“Doing something like this produces an immediate impact; for example demonstrating how to check the vision of non-verbal children unable to be assessed until now improves the odds of them getting treatment. Catching it early reduces the cost and increases the options for eye care and treatment,” he says.

Dr Carroll says it’s a sad reality that half of the world’s blind live in the Asia-Pacific region.

“This is even more shocking when you consider three quarters of blindness is preventable or treatable. Cataract is the leading global cause of blindness in adults, and is steadily increasing with more than a million people losing their sight every year,” he says.

Dr Carroll says that even if these people could afford treatment, in many countries they are unable to access it because there are too few eye specialists to go around.

Dr Carroll’s trip to Laos was in partnership with Sight For All, an Australian-based, non-profit professional partnership programme committed to tackling this problem head-on.

It turns the traditional model of making trainee eye specialists travel to pursue their studies on its head by organising top eye specialists to go to train eye specialists in the places they are needed most.

Ophthalmologists such as Dr Carroll are able to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise in a practical hands-on way through clinics and surgery as well as workshops and lectures. Sight For All also donates much-needed equipment.

“I’ve always enjoyed teaching and am an examiner for the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists training programme. I find it rewarding. I like travel, particularly to cultures that are different. I learn as much as I teach and it would be fascinating to return to Laos in the future to see the fruits of the ground breaking work that has begun there.”


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