Medical team delivers new sight, smiles

A medical team treated and performed surgery on hundreds of patients with sight problems, disfiguring injuries and facial defects during a two-week mission in Bokeo province last month.

Medical staff from Bokeo Provincial Hospital together with the ophthalmology team from Oudomxay province, the Lao Rehabilitation Foundation (LRF) and the Fred Hollows Foundation carried out cataract operations and plastic surgery to treat poor vision, cleft lip/cleft palate, and burn and traumatic scars, as well as treating minor eye problems. More than 1,500 residents of Tonpheung, Pha-oudom, Paktha, Huayxai and Meung districts were treated when the team visited these areas from February 1 to 14.

An ophthalmologist from Oudomxay province, Dr Phetsamone Indara, said the mission also aimed to broaden health service coverage for people in remote areas, ethnic groups and the urban poor. “Our specific targets are to improve the lives of patients by surgical repair of cleft lip/cleft palate, burn and traumatic scar reconstruction, and improving patients’ vision with donated glasses and through cataract surgery with intra-ocular lenses,” he said. At the end of the two-week project, the medical team considered all operations successful and said there were no complications.

“We hope this mission has reduced the number of cleft lip/cleft palate and cataract cases in Bokeo province and the Northern provinces as a whole,” Dr Phetsamone said. “It will also improve patients’ lives in the future, especially for the children and teenagers we have operated on.” In addition, US plastic surgeons and anesthesiologists from LRF conducted training to improve the skills of their counterparts in Bokeo province.

Duties were divided between the three cooperating organizations to implement the project successfully. Bokeo Provincial Hospital was responsible for informing local people about the project and for patient registration. The LRF covered the cost of the medical team’s transportation, surgery, hospitalization and transportation expenses for poor patients, and glasses and medical prescriptions. The Fred Hollows Foundation from Australia funded medicine for eye patients and the cost of cataract surgery.

Dr Phetsamone said there were some problems that would need to be solved for future projects, in particular the long delays in obtaining official documents from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Another setback was the difficulty in informing the public and locating the people who needed treatment. “The number of cleft lip/cleft palate cases in Bokeo province was not as high as expected, so we turned our attention to Huaphan, Xieng Khuang, Luang Prabang, Xayaboury and Luang Namtha provinces, which increased the original budget,” Dr Phetsamone said. In addition, surgery was cancelled in some cases because of systemic diseases; the team could not wait for those patients to recover so they operated on other people instead.

By Xayxana Leukai
(Latest Update March 5, 2010)