29

Oct 2014

Children in Laos to Benefit from Kiwi Ophthalmologist’s Expertise

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MEDIA RELEASE

Dr Justin Mora spent a week in Vientiane working with local ophthalmologists to teach paediatric-specific surgeries and diagnoses, pass on best practice and discuss potential future projects to improve eye health in the country.

IMG_1138A top paediatric ophthalmologist from Auckland Eye is helping train a specialist eye surgeon in Laos to deal with high levels of preventable blindness amongst children.

Dr Justin Mora spent a week in Vientiane working with local ophthalmologists to teach paediatric-specific surgeries and diagnoses, pass on best practice and discuss potential future projects to improve eye health in the country.

Dr Mora says it’s estimated there are around 3500 blind children in Laos, one-third of whom have either a preventable or treatable condition.

However a lack of expertise in the country – there are only 30 ophthalmologists to service a population of around 7million people – means that most children are never even screened for vision problems, let alone referred to specialist help if they need it.

“There is no history of taking a child to get their vision checked in places like Laos and Cambodia, and if there is a problem they often just accept it because they don’t realise there is a way of getting it fixed,” says Dr Mora.

“It’s largely due to a lack of resources – these countries aren’t wealthy, and ophthalmologists often can’t train enough because they can’t afford to. Then when they do train, they work super hard, but are so inundated with adult cataract surgery largely, that becomes their focus.”

Dr Mora has been working specifically with one ophthalmologist Sonchai Heuangvilay, with the aim for him to become the country’s specialist paediatric ophthalmologist, help train others, and start addressing the lack of eye care for children in Laos.

During the week he was in Vientiane, the pair saw around 30 children and performed six operations to help build the specialist’s confidence and demonstrate different techniques.

One operation carried out by Dr Mora was on a six-year-old girl who could see only shapes in front of her face due to bilateral cataracts. The Kiwi surgeon was able to remove one cataract, which gave her 6/12 vision – the level of sight required to drive a car in New Zealand.

“My colleague will operate on the other cataract later in the year when he visits, but she can see now, and that’s fantastic,” adds Dr Mora. “I think she was a bit stunned at first, she had a little hint of a smile, but her mum and granddad were just so excited.”

The Kiwi specialist is also helping to set up a programme that will identify signs of Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) – a condition that can lead to blindness in premature babies.

“In Vientiane, they have two neonatal units but no screening for this disease, so we are setting up a programme where a specialist from the ophthalmology department visits them and carries out checks on the premature babies to identify ROP, and hopefully prevent it.”

Dr Mora’s trip to Laos was in partnership with Sight For All, an Australian-based, non-profit professional partnership programme committed to tackling this problem head-on.

It turns the traditional model of making trainee eye specialists travel to pursue their studies on its head by organising top eye specialists to go to train eye specialists in the places they are needed most.

Dr Mora has previously travelled to Cambodia and Sight For All has also worked in Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Burma to participate in similar programmes. Sight For All also donates much-needed equipment to clinics and hospitals.

“It’s extremely satisfying work, and extremely important for these specialists to be able to teach others in their own countries,” says Dr Mora. “At Auckland Eye, the 14 ophthalmologists have donated over two years worth of volunteer hours over the past 20 years. It’s important to us to be able to help others develop skills and treat more patients.”

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Mark Devlin
With more than 20 years in public relations and marketing Mark Devlin has an impressive portfolio of clients who trust him with their brands. His ability to translate a commercial story into an informative and engaging business piece has seen his clients secure cut-through media coverage, position them as market leaders in their respective fields and grow their businesses substantially.
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