Sight For All, an Australian not for profit organisation, is expanding its reach, having recently completed the first year of its training program for optometrists in Myanmar and has recently commenced sub-speciality training of ophthalmologists in Mongolia.
The organisation, which was established by Adelaide based ophthalmologist Dr. James Muecke AM, is the realisation of a long-held dream to develop sustainable eye health services in low income countries of the Asia Pacific. Dr. Muecke co-founded Sight For All in 2007 and today, his entire family is involved. The organisation employs the equivalent of only 2.5 full time staff yet draws on the goodwill of eye health professionals across Australia and around the world to build expertise and resources in nine countries as well as in Australia.
Our focus is Asia, a region that’s home to half of the world’s blind
While many not for profit eye health organisations focus on offering, or training, eye health professionals in cataract surgery or refractive error, Sight For All embraces a much wider range of eye diseases.
“Our focus is Asia, a region that’s home to half of the world’s blind,” said Dr. Muecke. “There are hundreds of eye diseases. Many are blinding, and some are deadly, and yet most have been mismanaged or neglected in low income countries until recent years. So, we are ensuring our programs encompass all areas of the profession, including childhood blindness, glaucoma, corneal and retinal diseases, oculoplastics, ophthalmic oncology, and neuro-ophthalmology.
“The key element of our work is sustainable education, so that our colleagues have the skills to detect and manage all eye diseases. We support this education by providing appropriate diagnostic equipment and surgical instruments that enables them to do their work at the highest level.”
Sight For All brings ophthalmologists to Australia for periods of up to one year to be mentored and undertake training in sub-specialty areas. An ophthalmologist from Myanmar, for example, is currently training in paediatric ophthalmology in a partner hospital in Brisbane.
The organisation also sends specialists from Australia and other partnering countries, to provide sub-speciality training on the ground in low income countries.
“The English language is not so strong in countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, which makes it hard for their ophthalmologists to train in Australia. So, we take the training to them, in their own centres, and with the range of diseases that they face daily” said Dr. Muecke. “This is proving to be highly effective.”
A Ripple Effect
Dr. Muecke explained that its training programs create a ripple effect that eventually benefits entire populations.
“What we do is build up powerful training centres in each country so that the ophthalmologists we train can then train their colleagues. When they, in turn, are posted out to regional centres, they’re able to manage these diseases themselves.”
Optometry is also benefiting from the program. “We’ve just come to the end of the first year of training the first group of optometrists in Myanmar and we’re about to do the same in Mongolia. In countries like Mongolia, where there are no optometrists, we’re training eye health professionals to diagnose eye diseases, so they can screen in the community then refer on as appropriate. We are taking a staged approach to this program, with several week-long modules across a number of years.”
Sight For All has roughly 130 ‘Visionaries’ – ophthalmologists, optometrists, orthoptists, ophthalmic nurses and scientists from Australia and around the world, who together donate over 10,000 voluntary hours each year.
“That’s about AU$2m of expertise and goodwill that our Visionaries invest, and it generates an enormous return,” said Dr. Muecke. “PWC recently looked at return on social investment and determined that for every $1 invested in fighting blindness, $5 comes back into the community. We haven’t done the numbers for Sight For All – that would be an expensive and time consuming exercise – however because we are a ‘teach a person how to fish’ organisation, that is we use voluntary expertise to pass skills and knowledge on, I believe we’re having a much greater impact than this.
“We’re saving sight and helping to alleviate poverty. We’re also helping to build relationships in Asia, which is important for Australia because we’re setting the scene for our country to have fruitful economic relationships within the Asia Pacific.”
To find out more and assist Sight For All, visit www.sightforall.org