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Economy

Small surgeries make big difference -- Belt and Road project brings sight, new hope to cataract patients in Cambodia

April 19, 2019


Abstract : Sum Meyle, a mother of five children, was on cloud nine when she heard that a Chinese medical team, under the Belt and Road Cataract Blindness Eradication Campaign, was on a mission to provide free cataract surgeries here.

by Mao Pengfei, Nguon Sovan

KAMPONG CHAM, Cambodia, April 19 (Xinhua) -- Sum Meyle, a mother of five children, was on cloud nine when she heard that a Chinese medical team, under the Belt and Road Cataract Blindness Eradication Campaign, was on a mission to provide free cataract surgeries here.

Could not afford a surgery cost, the 36-year-old mother had lived with cataract on her left eye for years. Recently, however, her eye condition got worse and forced her to quit a job as a security guard in Phnom Penh. "A cataract surgery on my left eye would cost 350 U.S. dollars in Phnom Penh," she told Xinhua, "I don't have any savings and can't afford it."

Meyle divorced her husband almost six years ago because of domestic violence, and a injury to the eye was the cause of her cataract. Poverty has forced her two teenage daughters to make a living by working respectively in a hair salon and a noodle shop in Phnom Penh, and her two sons to live in an orphanage in Prey Veng province. She is currently living with her six-year-old daughter in a tiny rented room that costs her 15 U.S. dollars per month.

To this single mother, the news of Chinese doctors providing free cataract surgeries in Kampong Cham Provincial Hospital was like a beam of light in the dark night.

Wearing her hair in a thick long braid, Meyle was in a dark blue shirt with white dots. "I came here for the examination and luckily had the surgery on the same day," Meyle told Xinhua at the hospital.

She came to see the Chinese doctors the day after the surgery to remove the eye bandages. "I got up at 4 o'clock with both worry and excitement."

Her fears had disappeared after the bandages were removed. Her eyesight was restored.

BELT AND ROAD PROJECT TO ERADICATE CATARACTS

In Cambodia, cataracts are the main cause of blindness, said Por Norin, head of the ophthalmology unit of the Kampong Cham Provincial Hospital, adding that, according to a national estimate, about 0.32 percent of the country's 16 million people have cataracts.

"Our country's weather is hot, so for our people, especially farmers, who work under sunlight, they are more vulnerable to cataracts than those whose jobs are not exposed to sunlight," he said.

Meyle was one of thousands of Cambodian patients who were attracted to Kampong Cham Provincial Hospital by this free cataract surgeries project -- the Belt and Road Cataract Blindness Eradication Campaign.

The campaign, launched in Cambodia in May, 2018, by several Chinese entities and with cooperation of Cambodian Ministry of Health, will offer an 18-month free surgery for all cataract patients in Kampong Cham province, which was estimated at around 8,000.

Under the project, China had sent groups of ophthalmologists, along with two large vehicles equipped with modern medical equipment, to the Kampong Cham Provincial Hospital for cataract surgeries.

The latest group of three doctors and three nurses, from the First Affiliated Hospital of Guangxi Medical University (FAHGMU), China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, was the fourth team providing free surgeries in Cambodia under this project.

From dawn to dusk, the Chinese doctors, in cooperation with their Cambodian counterparts, work relentlessly to provide eye consultation, examination and surgeries on dozens of cataract patients every day.

Liang Hao, an ophthalmologist from FAHGMU and the leader of this team, told Xinhua that in order to provide better medical treatment to local patients, she visited Cambodia last year to prepare for this mission.

"Many patients in rural areas in Cambodia cannot afford this surgery, and have no choice but to live with cataracts or even in darkness for years. They cannot work and some think themselves as burdens of their family," Liang said.

"Mission is not complicated, since cataract surgeries are not very difficult. But we are proud of joining this project because we can help Cambodian patients restore their eye-sight and pursue a better life," she said.

According to Norin, if a patient seeks a surgery service at private hospitals or clinics, the cost for a surgery on one-eye cataract is between 300 U.S. dollars and 500 dollars.

"For our people, this project is very good because they can have their cataracts operated free of charge. Moreover, the Chinese doctors have high skills and use modern equipment to remove cataracts, and the result of post-cataract surgeries is good," he said.

KNOWLEDGE SHARING AND FUTURE COOPERATION

"We are here not only for the patients, but also for the local ophthalmologists," said Liang. She said that knowledge sharing and skills training had been a very important part in this project.

"We work together with local doctors and nurses and show them how to use the equipment in this mobile eye-clinic, so that even after this project is finished, they can still do cataract surgeries for local patients with those modern equipment," Liang said, adding that they also prepared a series of lectures for the local counterparts.

Yin Sinath, director of the Kampong Cham Provincial Hospital, said, "Currently, our doctors are learning from the Chinese doctors and practicing surgeries at the same time, so I think that 18 months are enough for our doctors to learn on how to use those pieces of medical equipment."

He said the equipment will be handed over to the hospital when the project is completed, and their hospital also needs China's assistance in the fields of emergency rescue and surgeries on various diseases.

"As the director of the Cambodia's Kampong Cham Provincial Hospital, I want cooperation between Chinese hospitals and the Kampong Cham Provincial Hospital in the field of emergency rescue because our hospital is a bit far from the capital city," he said.

"We want China to help establish an actual emergency rescue unit that is properly equipped with modern medical equipment," he added.

Besides, the hospital also sought cooperation with Chinese hospitals to set up a well-equipped surgery unit to serve the surgeries of various diseases such as stomach, bone, bladder, brain and so on, Sinath said.

FURTHER STRENGTHENING PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE BONDS

In Cambodia, the Belt and Road Initiative is not only driving the economic and infrastructure development, but also promoting more projects like this to improve common people's life.

Kimsour Phirun, director of the Kampong Cham Provincial Health Department, expressed his profound gratitude to the government and people of China, especially the Chinese medical team, for sparing no efforts to help restore sight for cataract patients in the province.

"We think this project is crucial for our people, especially the poor in rural areas," he said. "Such a project is really helpful to promote closer relations between Cambodian and Chinese peoples."

"We hope that from now until the end of 2019, all cataract patients in Kampong Cham province will have their cataracts removed," he said.

"This project is important to prevent blindness for rural people and reduce poverty in Cambodia," he said, adding that with better eye-sight the patients will have chances to find better jobs, make more money and better support their families.

After over one month in Cambodia, Liang told Xinhua that she was deeply impressed by the friendship between China and Cambodia. "They trust us. Although I cannot speak Khmer, I can feel it. When we visited their home, their hospitality was beyond our expectation. We hope to do more for our Cambodian friends."

After the surgery, Meyle came up with a new plan. "I will try to find a new job in garment factory. The surgery is like giving me a new life because with my eyesight, I can go to earn money to feed my children and maybe in the future I can build a small house for us," she said. "I have nothing to give back, but to say thanks to the doctors for their surgery to regain my vision."

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Keyword: Cambodia Belt-Road-project

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