A British doctor is pioneering the development of eye-surgery in Cambodia which
has few ophthalmic specialists.
Heather Jackson said most eye surgeons in
the country had been trained in Vietnam. She is the only expatriate
"They have not had much training and there is only
old equipment," said Dr Jackson.
She gave up a high-powered job at the
prestigious St George's Hospital in London to come to Cambodia for a
For the last two months she has worked with Help Age International,
a non governmental organization, at the provincial hospital in
"I wanted to work and do research in a third-world country.
St George's gave me year off when Help Age offered me this
"Cambodia was just what I wanted as the health structure is
at such a poor level. So much work needs to be done that felt I could make a
The cases she treats in Cambodia differ considerably from
those in London.
Sophisticated techniques for procedures such as cataract
operations cannot be carried out but Dr Jackson has brought improved methods and
"Our mandate is to introduce equipment that can be easily
maintained rather than rely on expensive items as we do in the west," she
In Britain, for example, during cataract surgery the lens on the
eye is replaced with a plastic one. Here, there are not yet the facilities to do
this and patients are given glasses instead.
Cataracts are the largest
cause of curable blindness in the world, affecting older people.
there are a huge range of eye problems in Cambodia and many children and young
adults suffer from a wide range of untreatable blindness caused by trauma,
disease and vitamin deficiency.
One young mother of three children
stepped on a mine and pieces of mortar went straight through her
"She has intra-ocular foreign bodies which we cannot remove. In
London we could operate and take them out but here we don't have the equipment,"
said Dr Jackson.
"She's now blind in one eye and we have treated her
against infection in the other."
Eyes are only removed when a problem a
problem is painful or unsightly. False eyes are sometimes used as a replacement
but Dr Jackson said they are poorly made here.
As a professional woman,
Dr Jackson said she finds Cambodians accord her the same respect she receives in
Britain, where fifty percent of all medical students now are female.
many women do surgical specialties," she said. "It's still a male-oriented
domain, with only two percent of consultant surgeons being female.
ophthalmic surgery is popular among women. It's not smelly! It's a nice, clean,
It enables her to mix science with human interest,
the main reason she came to Cambodia.
When she arrived only a few
patients came because they did not realize they could get help.
word spreads we are treating about 20 people a day," said Dr Jackson, who works
with British ophthalmic nurse Elaine Lee.
She is also training and
upgrading the staff's skills as part of a three-year project launched by Help
"We hope to leave a good referral center to train people in this
supra-specialty for the future," said Dr Jackson.
She spoke of the
gratitude of patients such as one elderly woman with cataracts waving good-bye
as she left the hospital in a cyclo.
Wearing thick glasses the woman was
overjoyed at being able to see again. Moments like that, said Dr Jackson, make
her work intensely rewarding.