Our Eye Clinic renews the sight of hundreds of people every year who, without our help, would lead incredibly difficult lives in Burma.
The eye care department began modestly in a bamboo shed in 1995 with three eye medics doing exams, treating basic eye diseases and refracting and dispensing donated eyeglasses after being trained by a border eye program. By the end of 1996, the medics were able to see 30 patients a day and started an outreach program in the Karen state (this was later discontinued due to security reasons).
In 1997, with the support of Karen Aid, and under the auspices of the IRC, a surgical team from the United Kingdom began facilitating on-site eye surgery. Initially there was just one annual visit, in which approximately 10 surgeries were performed. Nowadays, the team comes three times a year, performing 400 to 500 eye surgeries.
The patients come from nearby factories and refugee camps, as well as from inside Burma, sometimes as far as Mandalay. Most have cataracts or glaucoma; others are victims of landmines, or suffer from infections or inappropriate application of traditional medicines.
The department is currently staffed by twelve full time eye medics: one eye clinic program manager, one clinical supervisor, one optometrist and several community health workers and volunteers. In the last decade the clinic has grow to offer a variety of different services:
- Facilitation of eye surgery for cataracts and glaucoma
- Eye screening and eye health training for teachers in migrant schools
- Treatment of eye infections such as trachoma (the leading infectious cause of blindness in the world)
- Overseeing and running a mobile eye-clinic outreach service in the Mae-La district
- Facilitation of eye health training for teachers, interns, nurses, health assistants, backpack medics and community health workers
Although the surgeries are provided free to patients, financial difficulties are still present for patients and their families who, in most cases, have to borrow money or sell livestock to pay for transportation and expenses incurred in getting to the clinic. High transportation costs, the risk of arrest, and the inability of family to accompany them makes it difficult for some patients to access the clinic. These difficulties also make it hard for the clinic to carry out follow up care and assess long-term success. In recent years, the clinic has received a large number of patients and their families; this causes overcrowding of the clinic’s halls, rooms and any possible space under the shade of a tree.
There are still only basic instruments, a limited supply of eyeglasses and lack of space to treat large amounts of patients. Unfortunately, some of the patients must leave disappointed.