Dr Mariya Nazish Memon is a woman in a million. Actually, as the sole paediatric ophthalmologist in the city of Hyderabad in Pakistan’s Sindh Province, she’s a woman in four million.
The quickly spoken assistant professor of ophthalmology at Hyderabad Hospital comes from a family of doctors; three uncles and two aunts studied medicine and provided role models for the 40-year-old.
“I decided to go into ophthalmology because it is neat and clean surgery, because it is responsible for restoring sight and no emergency is involved.”
“I really like the kids, and I feel in the field of paediatric ophthalmology that the doctor must be a female and must be very friendly to the child. That’s why I chose it.”
There is little doubt that this mother of four relates well to children. Within moments of entering the clinic at The Children’s Hospital she is making a young boy smile with the help of a brightly coloured dinosaur.
While squints and congenital cataracts are common problems at home, she is shocked by cases of shaken baby syndrome and its accompanying damage to eyes during her time at Westmead.
“You just don’t see these sorts of cases in Pakistan.”
Many other experiences at The Children’s Hospital have been overwhelmingly positive ones, and Dr Memon is keen to introduce some changes in Hyderabad to improve care for patients.
“I just want to improve my health system and the main thing we are deficient on is the community focus. Here I really like the team work in the hospital; here all the sub-specialties are interlinked. In our country we have to refer patients to another hospital and often they will come back without a summary of notes.”
Dr Memon has just finished three months observation at The Children’s Hospital Westmead in Sydney as part of a fellowship in paediatric ophthalmology with the support of The Fred Hollows Foundation.
Once she completes her fellowship, Dr Memon will head the only dedicated paediatric ophthalmology eye unit in Hyderabad within the public health system. Most patients visiting her unit are from poor, remote and rural areas.
She says an improvement in record keeping will make patient management easier. She would also like to be able to train more staff as she often sees 60 people a day at her clinic – more than double the Australian equivalent.
“We need more doctors and mid-level staff, nurses, orthoptists and optometrists and paramedics.”
Dr Memon’s enthusiasm is infectious, and her dedication unmistakable but it comes at a cost: Her children are counting the days to her return. After a week with the family she’ll be back on the job – doing her part to make avoidable blindness history.
Dr Memon's fellowship was supported by The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
DFAT is the Australian Government agency responsible for managing Australia’s overseas aid program. Its aim is to help developing countries reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, in line with Australia’s national interest.
DFAT (and AusAID before it) has helped fund The Fred Hollows Foundation’s programs in countries where we work. DFAT currently provides support to The Foundation through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), the Australian Avoidable Blindness Initiative (ABI), and the Pakistan Australia Prevention of Avoidable Blindness (PAPAB) Project.