donkeo city, Takeo province – The day was cloudless and bright and from his spot at the front of the stage, King Norodom Sihamoni could clearly see the hundreds of people who gathered at the inauguration of the new Takeo Eye Hospital yesterday.
But clear vision, or the lack of it, is also what brings 150 to 200 people to the hospital every day for consultations and 15 to 20 people for eye surgeries daily.
“The hospital has provided services to a large number of Cambodian people, and training to Cambodian health staff from various hospitals throughout the country,” King Sihamoni said to the crowd.
The interior of the new one-story building is 1,889 square meters—twice the size of the previous hospital—with 62 beds, three operating rooms, 53 staff members, including four doctors, and a large kitchen for the patients’ caretakers to prepare meals, said Serey Bonn, the hospital’s co-project director, yesterday at the ceremony.
The new hospital includes an open-air examination area complete with a modified eye chart. Instead of multiple letters, there is only an “E” flipped in different directions and patients only have to say which direction the letter is facing when they are undergoing tests, thus removing the complications of literacy in a foreign alphabet.
The operating rooms—one for general eye surgeries, one for cataract operations and one for teaching—are all kept under a higher air pressure so when the doors open, air is expelled, preventing things such as dust or bacteria from filtering in.
Mr Bonn said eye health is a concern in Cambodia because the eyes are vulnerable to the sunny and dusty climate, poor nutrition, an improper use of medication and injuries from agricultural work.
“People can get things in their eyes from splitting wood or milling rice, but they ignore it because they are working,” he said.
Maryknoll, a Catholic aid organization, started the hospital in Takeo in 1997 after community-based blind rehabilitation teams in the province noticed that many of the cases were treatable, John Barth, a founder of the hospital, said yesterday at the ceremony.
Mr Barth said the most common eye problem in Cambodia is cataracts, which come naturally with age and can be fixed with a 50-minute surgery.
Injuries sustained during farm work take a serious turn when people ignore the initial injury; and it develops into a corneal scar, Mr Barth added.
“They don’t go to see a doctor because they have no money, which means they end up losing their sight,” he said. “With a simple surgery we give them their lives back.”
In addition to providing medical care at the hospital, the hospital trains doctors and nurses who specialize in eye care so they can open eye clinics in other provinces and provide more access to health care. The program has produced 21 eye doctors and 71 nurses who are currently working in the provinces.
“When we started we wanted to train doctors and nurses, not just set up a hospital,” Mr Barth said.