The Foundation has been working in Lao PDR for just over a year. But already, big steps are being taken which will assist many thousands of people regain their vision.
Interview: Dr Petsamoon Indara
In 1984, there was just one ophthalmologist and three cataract surgeons in Lao PDR, all in the capital, Vientiane. Today, there are 16 ophthalmologists.
Yet in a country of nearly 5.8 million, that‘s just one ophthalmologist for every 360,000 people. By comparison, in Australia there's one ophthalmologist for every 30,000 people.
In Lao PDR, one percent of the population is blind. Of those, 60% are afflicted with cataract, a condition that can be fixed with a simple operation costing $25 in some developing countries.
Dr Petsamoon Indara has been practicing as an ophthalmologist in Lao PDR for five years. Today, The Foundation helps support his work.
After graduating as a general doctor from the University of Vientiane, he came back to work in his home town at Oudomxay Hospital. One of his first cases had a profound influence.
"I met a lady who reminded me of my grandmother," he said. "My grandmother was blind for forty years because there was no treatment - just an occasional mobile eye service."
"As a child I witnessed her struggle. She couldn't go outside and as a result, I had to take her food and assist her to get around," said Dr Petsamoon.
Motivated by his grandmother's blindness, he went on to study ophthalmology.
As an ophthalmologist, Dr Petsamoon has seen many challenges. On return from basic eye doctor training, he travelled up and down the Mekong River performing mobile surgery. Sometimes he would see up to 600 cases every fortnight. Often, he would operate in makeshift buildings, once conducting a surgical session in a temple.
In one instance, a 43 year old woman was blind, as was her daughter - both due to congenital cataracts. After surgery, both mother and daughter could see again. "Witnessing them see each other, as a family, brought me to tears," said Dr Petsamoon.
Dr Petsamoon is one of only two ophthalmologists working in the remote northern provinces of Lao PDR - entrusted with looking after a population of almost 800,000.
In late 2009, the Oudomxay Provincial Hospital Eye Unit, funded by The Fred Hollows Foundation was completed. Despite taking only three months to build during the course of 2009, it screened 5,505 people and conducted 694 eye-related surgeries.
The new eye unit means higher quality surgery can be performed. As Dr Petsamoon said, "If I operate in the new eye centre, we have a 99 percent rate of success."
In addition to serving as a surgical centre, the plan is for the unit to serve as a regional training headquarters for eye health workers, building up a strong eye health professional network in this remote area of northern Lao PDR. This work would not be possible without the generosity of our supporters and organisations such as The Charitable Foundation, which contributes to our work in Lao PDR.
>Find out more about our program work in Lao PDR.