Since eye services were established at the Siem Reap Provincial Hospital, with donor support, it has grown in its capacity to deliver much needed eye healthcare to more than two million Cambodians, writes The Fred Hollows Foundation.
“I can count your fingers!” Sun Seang said to the nurse. “It’s clearer than before”.
Mrs Seang has just undergone cataract surgery at Siem Reap Provincial Hospital. Her smile is infectious as she realises she can see again.
Like many in the Siam Reap region, Mrs Seang was a farmer. She harvested potatoes but had to stop working when she went partially blind two years ago.
As her vision deteriorated, Mrs Seang’s daughter Pherm Pisey moved back home to care of her and take over her farming duties – a clear indication of the impact that avoidable blindness can cause. Mrs Seang is only 44-years-old.
Eye diseases that cause preventable blindness are often the result of a combination of factors such as poverty, lack of education and inadequate healthcare services.
Cataract is the leading cause of blindness in Siem Reap and nearby provinces, and since the hospital began working with The Fred Hollows Foundation in 2008, more than 9,000 people have received cataract surgery at the facility.
In late 2007 The Foundation received a request from Cambodia’s National Programme for Eye Health to build a new facility, replacing existing services in Siem Reap province. At that time these services were in a state of disrepair – deemed unhygienic, overcrowded and unable to meet the growing demands for services in the province.
“The old building was small and not comfortable for the patient,” local eye surgeon Dr Kong Sunly told The Fred Hollows Foundation at that time.
“The operating theatre was also small and made it more difficult for our eye team to conduct surgery.”
The new three-story facility now provides treatment for cataract, glaucoma, refraction and other eye diseases.
The project has several objectives, including research to produce better eye care plans, advocacy to raise awareness for eye health and ensure funding is available, and training to increase the number of doctors, nurses and health professionals.
One of them is Pen Sarith.
Mr Sarith is an ophthalmic nurse. He guides patients around the ward as they heal and he has the privilege of removing their patches, watching them see clearly for the first time in years.
“The people who come for surgery have to spend one to two days in hospital, and I am very happy to do my best to help them,” he said.
But it is a demanding job given that Mr Sarith is one of only eight ophthalmic nurses at the hospital.
Since eye services were established at the hospital with the support of The Foundation and the Australian government, the hospital has grown in its capacity to deliver much needed eye healthcare to its catchment of more than two million people.
It now provides more than 1,900 surgeries per year and conducts regular eye screening outreaches to remote communities in Siem Reap province.
The need is so great that the hospital needs to employ six more ophthalmic nurses like Mr Sarith, along with another two ophthalmologists and two refraction nurses.
Training is a key component to ensuring a strong health system. And it is another way The Foundation has provided much-needed assistance.
“I came from being a general nurse to an ophthalmic nurse,” Mr Sarith said, referring to the specialist training he received from The Fred Hollows Foundation in 2001.
“Initially it was a little bit challenging, but through training and work, I became more familiar and confident treating eye surgery patients,” he said.
The Fred Hollows Foundation sponsored the surgical team that operated on Mrs Seang.
“Because of you, I can see the people around me. I would like to say thank you for all your support. Thank you!” Mrs Seang said.
Meanwhile, Mr Sarith will continue helping patients as he has done throughout Siem Reap province for the past 36 years. “This is my duty,” he says proudly.
The Foundation has constructed and renovated six eye facilities in Cambodia since beginning work there in 1998. In that time, more than 6,000 cataract operations have been performed and 45,000 Cambodians screened for eye conditions.
The Fred Hollows Foundation receives funding through the Australian government’s Avoidable Blindness Initiative to reduce avoidable blindness in seven provinces of Cambodia and the municipality of Phnom Penh.