Seeking help for eye problems is not easy in Cambodia. With only 35 eye surgeons for 15 million people, the vast majority of people may never be treated. Compare this figure to Hong Kong, where we have around 250 ophthalmologists for 7 million people. Even access to primary eye care through optometrists is something of a luxury in Cambodia.
Today 10.1% of the Cambodian population live below the income poverty line, measured at HKD$7 a day. In addition, 40.4% of employed people are considered working poor, earning just HKD$11 per day.
This is a result of history. From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge attempted to reboot Cambodian society and start at “Year Zero.” They wanted to establish a new order – free of money, family ties, religion, education, property, and foreign influence. To create a society like this meant removing those who were resistant, which led to a genocide and the death of around a quarter of Cambodia’s population.
Factories, schools, universities and hospitals were shut down. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists and professional people in any field were murdered.
Cambodia started to rebuild after the Khmer Rouge was overthrown, but with so much infrastructure and knowledge destroyed there is a massive gap in skills and a shortage of professionals in many fields – including doctors. The resilience of the people has seen the country forge ahead, but it’s a long process to recover from such devastation.
Eye services only really began in 2011, when The Fred Hollows Foundation renovated the local hospital, donated some essential equipment and began conducting outreach eye camps in the Oddar Meanchey province.
Dr Sarath is one of the doctors that The Fred Hollows Foundation has trained in Cambodia. At just 32, he represents a new generation of Cambodian professionals in a country that tragically lost an entire generation.
Dr Sarath was born in the capital Phnom Penh, but now lives in the coastal town of Sihanoukville. It’s Cambodia’s eye doctor shortage that brings Dr Sarath all the way away from home.
Last year, with The Foundation’s support, Dr Sarath attended the Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Nepal to learn how to operate to treat cataract. It was a learning experience that he treasures. By training more doctors locally, more patients like Thol can receive treatment easily.
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