The Australian-based Fred Hollows Foundation has been restoring sight to hundreds of thousands of people in Asia, often with local partners.
It's now setting up 'eye camps' in Yangon, collaborating with the Myanmar Health ministry.
Speaker: Dr Sanduk Ruit, founder and medical director of Nepal's Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology, on his first medical mission to Myanmar
RUIT: The Ministry of Health and the Yangon Eye hospital the response has been on the first day just exceptionally very good and they are very pleased to see the system that we have instituted and the system that we're trying to demonstrate to them, which is a high volume, efficient high quality cataract surgical delivery system.
LAM: And have you had many people come up to you, the local Myanmar people come up to you for treatment?
RUIT: Yes, our staff screened not on the first day, over the last one week about four-thousand patients were screened of which about 16-hundred cases will be for surgery.
LAM: And Dr Ruit I understand that you've single-handedly restored sight to over 120-thousand people in your work in Nepal and elsewhere, tell us about your method that has been so successful?
RUIT: Yes when we started cataract surgery way back and Fred (Hollows) and I worked closely and we were always trying to refine our methods to deliver good quality cataract surgery and make it happen in developing countries, which was a big ask. So I went on thinking about it and finally we have got a system, it's not only the surgical technique, it's the whole system of seeing the patients, screening the patients effectively and measuring the (word indistinct) of each patient and making sure that all the pre-operative proper standard operating procedures are followed, and then the surgery is virtually done with a manual small incision cataract surgery, which is without getting stitches, the results are good and it's faster and it's cost-effective particularly in developing countries where the cataracts are very hard and very mature.
LAM: The eye camps that are currently being held in Myanmar they are being funded by the Fred Hollows Foundation. Tell us a bit more about these eye camps, what do they do and what happens there?
RUIT: Yeah these are actually not the old types of eye camps, these are very highly sophisticated modern surgical setups to deliver high volume, high quality cataract surgery like you have in the offices of Australia, but at a very low cost. And our main aim actually is to deliver this type of surgery and demonstrate it to the local people. And then one of our most important things is to empower the local people, the local government, local health personnel, local health officials so that we can help them to nurture, strengthen their eye health, prevention of blindness program throughout Myanmar in a more structured and professional way by training, by delivering community eye health, and then by looking at some other causes of blindness besides cataracts. We're generally looking at cataracts being the nucleus and the most common cause of blindness, which is responsible for about 60 per cent of the blindness in Myanmar. The other passive blindness are glaucoma, diabetes affected eyes, visual impairment in children and blindness like that.
LAM: Are these treatments available to people in the countryside, because I imagine transportation would be a huge problem for them? Is the idea that gradually people in Myanmar can access eye treatment wherever it is that they may be living?
RUIT: Myanmar is a big country with a population of about 60 million and they've just come out of hiding for many years and services are a little bit outback, and our attack should be bi-pronged; one is to develop the ministry identified Yangon Eye hospital into a centre of excellence. They will have their own place where they can train the local personnel in the future. And that's very important, but we have to emphasise that they don't depend on others for training, that's our one purpose. The second purpose is till then continue to assist them in delivering community outreach activities outside Yangon in places where there's a need to, building up proper human resources and very high quality and committed human resources need to be in place for them to continue the work in a more sustainable way in the future. I think the Fred Hollows Foundation has now become the face of Australia outside, which is fantastic.