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Giving the gift of sight in Kampot

An elderly woman has her eyes tested to determine whether or not she is eligible for cataract surgery. Photo by: SAI AUNG THEIN

SUNDAY, July 31, saw the arrival of a troupe of Australian physicians, surgeons, nurses, optometrists, pharmacists and volunteers in Kampot province to carry out work for Cambodia Vision, aiming to prevent, improve and hopefully cure the vision impairments of some of the province’s poorest people.

The team, totalling 29 members, has been performing operations such as cataract surgeries from the Kampot Referral Hospital. According to Check Ming Ly, chairman of Cambodia Vision, come the end of the trip on Saturday, August 6, it is expected that more than 300 of these surgeries will have been performed on patients who would have otherwise had to live with their ailments, unable to pay for treatment.

Cambodia Vision is a non-profit organisation founded in December of 2006 with the aim of restoring sight to the needlessly blind. Their plight is largely based on the fact that Cambodia has one of the highest incidences of preventable blindness in the world, with approximately 70,000 new cataract cases coming to light each year, according to their website.

The patients at this year’s week-long endeavour ranged in age from five to more than 80, and the medical practitioners have been working tirelessly, from around 7am until after 10pm, seeing up to 150 people per day.

General medical check-ups are also being offered to each patient. Those who visit the clinic are first seen to by a general practitioner, and then sent onto the optometry department to determine whether or not they are a suitable candidate for eye surgery, Check Ming Ly explained.

For those unable to have an operation, a care pack containing eye drops, sunglasses and optical aid glasses is given to them to take home.

Susan Ang, head of the Cambodia Vision optometry team, says the group is providing world-class services and that all the equipment and procedures used are top quality. She insists that quality isn’t compromised simply because the services are free.

“We take our job very seriously,” she says. “Everybody who walks out of here will have better sight than when they walked in, whether it is due to surgery or glasses.”

Nao Chreach, a 73-year-old who just had her left eye operated on when The Post visited the hospital, says she is thankful for getting the free service after suffering with cataracts for more than 10 years. She’s now happy she can again make floor mats – the means by which she earns her living.

Nao Chreach, who comes from Kok Veng village in Touk Meas district, is also thankful that the surgery will enable her to clearly see statues of the Buddha when she prays.

“I want to pray for my husband and daughter-in-law who passed away not so long ago,” she explained.   

Minister of Health Dr Mam Bunheng says it is the national policy of the Ministry of Health to serve people and support those in need.

“We are seeking the continued support of Cambodia Vision to be able to help Cambodian people living in rural areas,” he says, adding that Cambodia Vision should re-propose their programme and work together with the Cambodian government in the future.

Susan Ang also hopes to recruit additional help in the form of expats, well as local Cambodians, to ensure as many people as possible are assisted, especially farmers who are particularly vulnerable to cataracts due to their working under the harsh sun each and every day.  

“We want to help even more because surgeries like this, especially in places like Australia, cost anywhere between US$2,000 and $4,000.”

If these hopes become a reality, and Cambodia Vision acquires more funding, they plan to also bring a dental team to Neak Leung town in Prey Veng province, where the team will carry out their important work next year.

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