Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - What you get is what you see

What you get is what you see

What you get is what you see

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

ophthalmologist here.

"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

year.

For the last two months she has worked with Help Age International,

a non governmental organization, at the provincial hospital in

Battambang.

"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

opportunity.

"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

contribution."

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

instruments.

"Our mandate is to introduce equipment that can be easily

maintained rather than rely on expensive items as we do in the west," she

said.

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.

But

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

eyes.

"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.

"Not

many women do surgical specialties," she said. "It's still a male-oriented

domain, with only two percent of consultant surgeons being female.

"But

ophthalmic surgery is popular among women. It's not smelly! It's a nice, clean,

technical process."

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.

"Now, as

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

Age.

"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.

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