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"When we met the folks at Seva, we knew we were among kindred spirits, joining to bring people together in service to others. Whether preventing blindness in Nepal, assisting native peoples in Guatemala and Mexico, or helping our own Native Americans, Seva has been there to help alleviate suffering and improve people's lives. Long may they rock!"
The Grateful Dead
Seeing a New Future in Cambodia
Seva helps build services to prevent and cure blindness
Think about this... In Cambodia, a country of nearly 14 million people, there are fewer than ten local ophthalmologists working today — and Seva Foundation helped train half of them.
That says a lot about the state of eye care services in a country still recovering from the ravages of wars that happened more than 30 years ago. It also tells about the importance of Seva's role in building the infrastructure required to prevent and cure blindness among the people there.
Seva is working to fill a tremendous need. There are about 160,000 Cambodians who are blind — and as is true in nearly all poor, developing countries, 80% of this blindness is due to preventable and even curable conditions such as cataract.
Right now, there are about 90,000 Cambodian people of all ages with cataract blindness, and 22,000 new cases are added each year. But only 13,000 people per year are able to obtain sight-restoring surgery. Thousands of others are blind from similarly treatable conditions, and many suffer from low vision which could easily be corrected with glasses. Women are twice as likely to be blind as men due to an historic lack of access to eye care, a gender imbalance that is typical in many places around the world.
Seva Making a Difference
Thankfully, the situation is improving now that Seva is helping to build a new care center while strengthening the existing eye care services in three of Cambodia's neediest provinces: Battambang, Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey, all located in the northwest corner of the country. With technical and financial support from Seva, the number of cataract surgeries in Cambodia has doubled over the past five years, and the pace of progress is expected to accelerate.
"Cambodia lost so much during the war and conflict in recent years," explains Dr. Chundak Tenzing, Director of Seva's Sight Program. "Now, it's as though they have to rebuild their health care system infrastructure from the ground up. But there's already been real progress and we can see the way to keep improving."
A Comprehensive Approach
Dr. Tenzing explained that Seva is using the same strategies that have proven successful in building all of our programs. "We always focus on building partnerships with local organizations, including governmental agencies, other nonprofit groups, local clinics and the doctors there. And we also focus on building the local capacity of doctors and staff. Ultimately, they have to be able to provide the services themselves — they can't be dependent on outside help to care for all their patients."
Building Cambodia's eye care infrastructure requires a comprehensive approach, and Seva is working on multiple initiatives simultaneously, including:
Government Clinics The government operates eye clinics in every province, but lacks the resources needed to be fully effective. Seva provides funding and equipment for clinics in three northwestern provinces. We also provide subsidies that enable clinic doctors to supplement the low salaries provided by the government. Last year, over 6,500 people were examined, and about 900 patients received sight-restoring surgery at these clinics.
Battambang Ophthalmic Care Center Seva is the lead partner in launching this new eye care facility, which opened its doors in September 2007. With two ophthalmologists and a support staff of 14, the center conducted 1,144 sight-restoring cataract surgeries in just its first six months — more than most government clinics can do in an entire year.
Eye Camps Sponsored and trained by Seva, teams of outreach workers visit remote communities to conduct free eye exams. Patients that need treatment are referred to nearby clinics, where visiting Seva doctors spend a week doing surgeries and other procedures. Last summer, nearly 2,000 people were examined and over 500 patients received surgery.
Angkor Hospital for Children Seva supports the pediatric eye clinic at this hospital in Siem Reap province. Last year, over 3,000 children were examined at the clinic and 9,300 children were examined in nearby schools. Over 250 children were treated with surgery, and about 285 were given free corrective glasses.
Professional Training Cambodia has no schools that can train ophthalmologists. Local doctors are sponsored by Seva to attend training at the Lumbini Eye Institute, our longtime partner in Nepal.
Volunteers Recruited and coordinated by Seva, volunteer ophthalmologists and optometrists travel to Cambodia to provide lectures and hands-on training for local staff.
The Challenge Ahead
"We are very pleased with our progress so far," says Dr. Tenzing, "but we still have much work to do. For example, just to keep up with the new cases of cataract blindness, we need to get up to about 25,000 surgeries per year. That's a big challenge. But we know that with the support of all the wonderful Seva donors and friends, we can help Cambodia build an eye care system that can be sustained for the future."