Dr Phan Binh was one of the first Vietnamese surgeons to undertake the training Fred Hollows established in the early 1990s. His gratitude for what Fred did, and the ongoing work of The Foundation is profound.
“It’s been a revelation! Professor Hollows and The Fred Hollows Foundation opened a new era for the eye health sector in Vietnam,” said Dr Phan Binh, the former director of the Da Nang Eye Hospital in Central Vietnam.
“From the mountains to the plains to the rivers, everyone can now benefit from a technique that was before only for rich people.”
Dr Binh personifies the importance of the continuing cycle of teachers training teachers. As a young surgeon, he went through the initial training implemented in Vietnam by Fred Hollows in the early 1990s.
Dr Pham Binh with the plan of the new centre of ophthalmology in Da Nang (Vietnam) in 1997
Prior to Fred Hollows’ visit to Vietnam in 1992, only two surgeons there knew the modern technique to replace a cataract with a manufactured intraocular lens (IOL). One was based in Hanoi, the other in Ho Chi Minh City.
“They taught themselves,” Dr Binh said. “They learnt by watching other doctors, they didn’t get trained. And the IOLs they got were from trips overseas – they would just ask for donations.”
But despite their enthusiasm, the pair could perform just 50 surgeries a year.
Knowing the dire situation in Vietnam, Fred vowed to train 300 surgeons over the coming three years. Dr Binh attended the second training course, held in Ho Chi Minh City in 1993, after meeting Fred with some other surgeons earlier in Hanoi.
“I joined his family meals with two other ophthalmologists and we organised a Vietnamese folk song singing night – we had meals with his family and listened to the Vietnamese music,” Dr Binh said reflecting on fond memories of his time with Fred Hollows.
“I will never forget how he dedicated himself to his work. And he had his pipe, always his pipe. I never saw him without it!”
I will never forget how he dedicated himself to his work...
- Dr Binh about Fred Hollows
Fred, along with close friend and colleague Dr Sanduk Ruit, had a plan for Dr Binh who comes from Vietnam’s Central region. Especially as the two other surgeons were based elsewhere.
“The intention of Professor Hollows and Dr Ruit was to train me to become the core trainer of the whole Central Region. When I participated in the training course in Ho Chi Minh City, of the 12 people, I was the only one from the Central Region.”
Dr Binh has since trained more than 100 surgeons himself and the Central Region currently has more than 300 surgeons performing upwards of 50,000 eye operations per year – many in Da Nang, the largest city in central Vietnam.
The effect of training: Dr Luog Huu Thien was trained by The Fred Hollows Foundation. He said “In a week, I will operate on roughly between 45 – 50 eyes. Each eyes would take an average 5-10 minutes per case. The quickest cataract surgery I’ve done was 3 minutes. I’ve been a doctor for 16 years and a surgical eye doctor for 12 years. Over the years that I’ve been doing cataract operations, I’ve fixed around 15,000 eyes."
But there is still need. Dr Binh lists three main concerns: high quality staff, awareness around eye health, and infrastructure and equipment. But training tops his list.
“The most import thing is human resources – the people,” he said. “We have to keep training and building the number of surgeons – it’s the key.
“We ourselves can’t go to the remote areas to do the surgeries. Once we have the surgeons, patients in remote areas and poor people can benefit from this technique.”
We have to keep training and building the number of surgeons. It's the key.
- Dr Binh
Today, there are more than 1,000 surgeons trained in modern cataract surgery. And those surgeons are responsible for at least 200,000 cataract surgeries performed every year in Vietnam.
With such an obvious result, it is not surprising to hear how revered Fred Hollows is in Vietnam.
“During the 15 years that I was the director of Da Nang Eye Hospital, I always had pictures of Professor Hollows in my office. It’s been five years since I retired but those pictures are still there,” Dr Binh said.
But it goes much deeper.
“Not only Da Nang Eye Hospital, not only me, but the entire eye health sector in general is forever grateful to Professor Hollows,” Dr Binh said.