Volunteers set sight on Cambodia

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Thanks to a group of volunteers hundreds of Cambodians had their eyesight restored in October last year.

Doctor David Merefield, anaesthetist at Friendly Society Private Hospital (The Friendlies), was one of the many volunteers who travelled to Pursat, Cambodia for one week to help restore eyesight to those living in rural communities.

It was the first time Dr Merefield worked with Cambodia Vision, a not-for-profit organisation that treats thousands of Cambodians by restoring their eyesight, treating their eyes and returning them to work.

“A couple of theatre nurses at The Friendlies had been involved before. They had talked about it and it sounded like a rewarding opportunity, so I expressed an interest to go and a space opened up last year,” said Dr Merefield.

Dr Merefield was one of three anaesthetists working with seven ophthalmologists, he said eye damage and disease was a huge problem in Cambodia.

“We performed a number of eye operations on cataracts and pterygiums on the poorest of Cambodians. Last year we were able to treat 433 patients in just six days.

“Cambodians work out in the sun and they don’t wear sunglasses, and in Cambodia if you can’t see then you can’t work.”

Dr Merefield said along with volunteers they had seven medical students from Phnom Penh and 22 high school students from Pursat involved in the week.

“They had hands on training and were very keen and inspiring. This is important to pass on our knowledge and skills to the local community,” said Dr Merefield.

Part-time theatre nurse at the Friendlies, Eileen Betts has been involved with Cambodia Vision since 2007 and has travelled to Cambodia each year.

“I had a friend in Sydney who asked me if I wanted to go – I have been in the eye world all my nursing life.

“The very first trip we did 70 eyes and last year we did 433,” said Mrs Betts.

Mrs Betts has been working at The Friendlies since 2011 and has inspired staff to join the charity on their trips each October.

The Friendlies has also been able to assist with providing the anaesthetic drugs needed to perform the operations each year since 2012.

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