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The Myanmar Eyecare Problem

Myanmar Map        Myanmar has the highest recorded blindness prevalence rate in the world, yet only 200 local ophthalmologists practice in Myanmar (Burma), mostly in the two largest cities. While their work is of high quality their number is insufficient to address the enormous backlog of preventable and reversible blindness.
        The See Again Myanmar NGO program, led by Dr Geoff Cohn, an Australian ophthalmologist (eye surgeon), addresses this rural backlog of Myanmar preventable and reversible blindness.

       The program runs clinics in monastic hospitals at Hmawby Monastery, Taung-Kalat Hospital at Mt Poppa, Jivitadana Sangha Hospital in Wachet, Phaung Daw Oo Monastery Hospital in Mandalay and Mandalay Sangha hospital. Other centres throughout Myanmar are being planned.

Dr Cohn and nursing team in front of picture of Watchet HospitalWhy Myanmar (Burma)?

       Dr Cohn says, "Because the need is great! Because the monasteries are asking us to help with this ongoing crisis of blindness! Because the people are imploring us to empower them to help themselves! We care passionately. We can help to relieve preventable blindness by cataract surgery and acute angle glaucoma treatment among other remedies."

Dr Geff Cohn and members of the nursing team in front of a painting of the Wachet hospital

 

History of the program - Dr Geoff Cohn’s Vision

        As a medical student in Johannesburg Geoff Cohn’s compassion was ignited by the suffering he saw.
As a medical officer at a mission hospital, Geoff, seeing how reversing blindness proved to be the key to quality of life for so many, decided to train as an ophthalmologist. His mission was to help with resourcing poorer communities to address preventable blindness.
        Once qualified his first project was in Bophutatswana, Southern Africa, where there was a serious shortage of eye professionals. He trained a team of nurses to carry out assessments, prescribe glasses and treatments and to perform simple surgical procedures. Thus eye-care service was provided for 250 000 people.                                        Dr Cohn treating some boys who've just returned from a corroboree at a mission station near katherine

        In Australia Dr Cohn worked with Fred Hollows in the outback to relieve visual suffering and restore eyesight. Treatment for trachoma and cataract amongst other disorders was undertaken in bush camps.
      

Dr Cohn at a mission bush camp near Katherine. The young patients had just come in from a corroboree!

       Dr Geoff Cohn went on to establish eye care services in Indonesia. A mobile operating theatre was supplied by courtesy of Rotary Australia. The project is still providing service some 18 years later in Bali, East Java, Kalimantan, Lombok and Irian Jaya.
        His next project was teaching eye care in Papua New Guinea. Bringing trainees up to standard and helping them to consolidate their knowledge and understanding proved very gratifying to the Australian eye surgeons.
       After that he aligned with “Help Age International” to teach surgery in Cambodia. The Australian team offered advanced training to six inspired and enthusiastic Cambodian eye professionals; doctors and nurses who had been fast-tracked through their training because of the desperate need for eye specialists.
       In 2002 because of the great need for eye care in Myanmar the See Again Myanmar (NGO) project was inaugurated.

 

Aims - See Again Myanmar Program’s Mission Statement

Nurse examining an eye        Dr Cohn says, "Our vision is for every sight-impaired person to be given the opportunity to see. Our mission is to transfer the skills and resources required to preserve sight and to prevent avoidable blindness among our needy neighbours". 

        The primary goal of the See Again Myanmar program is to empower the people of Myanmar to alleviate avoidable blindness by ensuring a self-sustaining, high quality and efficient eye care health system in the rural areas.

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75% of visual impairment is unnecessary-
                  It can be either prevented or treated!

 

 Program - How the See Again Myanmar Project Works.

        In Myanmar there are five monastic medical centres. These centres support and are supported by the See Again Myanmar team who visit many times per year to top up supplies, teach and maintain standards.

        Throughout the year trained local auxiliary workers run clinics at these monasteries. They also visit outreach clinics in the villages. Among their duties the auxiliaries screen, prescribe glasses, teach eye exercises, offer advice, and list people for surgery.

Worm's eye view of surgery        The See Again Myanmar and local eye surgeons can then rapidly confirm the assessment and operate. All preparation, sterilization and even local anaesthetic is carried out by the efficient and dedicated auxiliaries.
Procedures include laser treatment to prevent glaucoma and surgery to alleviate cataract blindness. 
        During the two to three weeks of the See Again Myanmar team’s visit, with the help of the local ophthalmic technicians an average of 2500 patients are treated. About 400 surgical procedures are carried out.
        And miracles happen; the day after the removal of a cataract, a blind person sees again. Lives are changed forever by the attention of people who care.
        By the end of the visit the team is exhausted and quietly exhilarated in the certain knowledge that they’ve made a life-enhancing difference to so many people.

 

Funding - How the Project is Funded

        The project is funded entirely by donation. Restoring eyesight in Myanmar is cheap. Compassionate people from Australia and other countries give generously. You too can participate in this very worthwhile cause!
        The cost for one cataract-blind person to see again is only $15! For this small sum,  independence and power to contribute to community life can be gifted. For $30 cataracts in both eyes can be removed. $100 will buy 30 silicone cataract lens implants. $6000 buys one laser machine. An entire Myanmar Eye Care Clinic can be built for $50 000. Every donation is very worthwhile and welcome.

100% of donated money is used for sight-restoration. 

Because they care, Australian eye surgeons and nurses fund their own travel and expenses to Myanmar.

 

Success Stories

Naing cheerful after surgeryNaing’s Story; When Naing Htoo Aung was three, his parents were killed in a mine accident. His 65 year-old grandmother adopted him. An injury scarred Naing’s left eyelid open exposing his eye to severe damage. His grandmother pawned her village house, her only possession, for $30, in order to bring her grandson upriver to Jivitadana Sangha (monastery) hospital at Wachet near Mandalay.         

The See Again Myanmar eye care team came to know Naing and his loving grandmother. Naing became the pet patient of the staff.

After his recovery from four surgical procedures the team had arranged Naing’s attendance at a fee-free monastery school in Mandalay Hills. Now Naing is enjoying his education and his grandmother is contented to have work and a home nearby

.Naing Happy After Surgery

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old monkA 107 Year Old Monk’s Story A monk turned 107. He has seen a life span of three centuries of momentous times. He has retained all of his marbles if none of his teeth.                      On Christmas Day 2006 the See Again Myanmar team removed cataracts which had recently clouded his world view.
       Out of respect for the monk’s great age and status, the medical superintendent surrendered her office to him for a week giving him a private room while his eyes healed around the new silicon lens implants.
       The monk spent the recovery time meditating. May he live long to see many more miracles!.

The monk removes his bandages and sees again

 

Seeing is Believing She could feed her baby and change him by touch. Her white, cataract clouded pupils were stark in her young, expressionless face. Her husband had the haunted look of a man whose responsibilities were drowning him. Dr Cohn spared only a minute to decide that surgery was worthwhile.
         The auxiliaries removed the eye pad the day after the operation and asked her to look at the eye chart. She did not do so. She silently searched the room for a familiar squawk; that was her only recognition of her infant. She swept across the room to see him for the first time.
         Fortunately tears are good for the eye which has undergone cataract surgery. Tears did make it difficult, however, for Dr Cohn to see down the laser microscope, where he was pretending that he was not moved by the scene.

Future - See Again Myanmar Looks to the Future

Dr Cohn says, "After the first thirty thousand eye operations, one can reminisce on endless little memories which make the work all quite compelling. Few people have the privilege to know the satisfaction which we, the Eyecare Team are granted. This satisfaction transcends the frustrations and distress, the metaphysical puzzlement as to why some should be so disadvantaged by life.
         In general, when all is said and done, there is a great deal more said than done. See Again Myanmar is about practical intervention and the results are very evident. So, until the bureaucratic debate on the inference of blindness and pain adds an applicable dimension, we , the See Again Myanmar team will continue to act as our skills, resources and conscience permit.  Your support will help this very worthwhile cause. We thank you for your kindness!"

  Donate - You Can Empower Someone’s LifePagoda!

Be a part of the solution! Help shift the balance!

Donate an eyesight restoration procedure to someone!

Donate Today;
$15 for one cataract operation
$30 to repair both eyes
$100 to supply 30 silicone lens implants
$6000 for one surgical laser equipment
$50 000 to build an Eye Care Clinic

                               Email: enquiries@eyefoundation.org.au --> RE: See Again Myanmar Program

                               Or Email: dede@better.net.au --> RE: See Again Myanmar Program

                                Web: www.eyefoundation.org.au --> RE: See Again Myanmar Program

The Eye Foundation, a registered charity, (ABN 84 102 618 637) was founded by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO). This charity collects donations for See Again Myanmar among its other worthy causes.

All donations of $2.00 and more are tax deductible.

The SEE AGAIN MYANMAR PROGRAM offers a heartfelt thanks to all our generous donors to date. They include Rotary International, Blackmores Health Products, Kerry Stokes, Lady Sybil Joel and thousands of others who prefer to remain anonymous

Images 6 Naing, and 8 Pagoda, by Jimmy Pozarik. All other images by members of the See Again Myanmar team