CERA staff volunteer in Myanmar and EthiopiaApril 23, 2013
Emily Caruso, an Orthoptist with CERA’s Macular Research Unit, travelled to Dubti, in Ethiopia to volunteer her skills at an annual cataract clinic run by not-for-profit organisation Eyes for Africa.
Emily, along with three Australian nurses, an Australian ophthalmologist and a local ophthalmologist, carried out 240 cataract operations in eight and a half days; a new record for the clinic. “We could have kept going – there were so many more people waiting for an operation but we only had a limited amount of time,” said Emily, regretfully.
“The operations are very different to what we do here in Australia. They have older equipment and the patients are much more advanced in the disease by the time they come to the clinic,” said Emily. “Also, none of the patients spoke English so we had a language barrier to contend with as well.”
“In Australia, people rarely go blind from cataract. It’s a curable disease and even in Africa, where the cases are more severe, it’s still a very simple surgical procedure to remove the cataract and restore sight. There’s no need for anyone to go blind from cataract, so I wanted to help out and give these people what the rest of us take for granted,” she said.
Around the same time, CERA Orthoptists Fleur O’Hare and Elizabeth Glatz volunteered with the Myanmar Eye Care Program. It was Fleur’s second time working with the program in Myanmar (formerly called Burma), which is supported by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmology (RANZCO) Eye Foundation.
In Myanmar, Fleur and Elizabeth helped train local staff in visual acuity assessment and basic eye exams. They described the clinics a similar to outpatient clinics in Australia, but more “chaotic”; servicing over 200 patients a day.
“One of the major differences is that the eye disease is so much more advanced by the time the patient comes to the clinic,” said Fleur, echoing Emily’s experience in Ethiopia. “We also saw a lot of agricultural-related problems, for instance the patient might have got a seed stuck in their eye, which led to a secondary fungal infection. By the time they come to the clinic, the damage is irreparable which is very sad. It’s always the ones you can’t help that really stick with you.”
Elizabeth found that many of the challenges stemmed from lack of education and support for local staff. “We went to an orphanage to do some testing and they said they had an a-scanner (machine for measuring the length of the eye) but it was broken,” said Elizabeth. “We checked it out and it was working fine! It goes to show how important the training aspect of the program is, in order for it to be sustainable.”
Emily, Fleur and Elizabeth travelled at their own expense and used their annual holidays from CERA in order to participate in the volunteer programs.
To learn more about the programs, visit: