Prof. Sunil Shah: From saving sight in Cambodia to live surgery at Optrafair

It’s no secret that technology is rapidly transforming the optical industry. One of the best examples is how technology has helped laser surgery operate with enhanced precision and accuracy. Femto-second laser cataract surgery is an advanced type of cataract surgery that uses laser technology to try and improve precision and accuracy. Laser technology simply tries to give you perfectly clear vision without glasses or contact lenses, emitting optical pulses in femto-seconds, which is 1 millionth of 1 billionth of a second!


The ability to reproduce each step of the surgery, when using a laser as opposed to hand-held surgical tools, should reduce the risks of cataract surgery. But we must put laser surgery into context. It’s important to point out that traditional cataract surgery has been very successful over the years. It’s also worth noting that lasers don’t come cheap – currently costing around £400,000.


A leading exponent of cataract laser surgery is Professor Sunil Shah, who qualified from St. Georges Hospital Medical School and completed his post-graduate training in Torquay, Exeter, Manchester and Nottingham. Sunil has been a consultant at the Birmingham and Midland Eye Centre since 2000, where he runs a cornea and cataract service and performs femto-second laser surgery at Midland Eye in Solihull. He will be performing femto-second laser cataract surgery during Optrafair 20/20. It will be livestreamed straight into the event, allowing visitors to see the surgery first-hand. Additionally, he will be joining the event after the procedure to answer questions.


Sunil is a Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon with a global reputation, appearing in the top 100 power list compiled by The Ophthalmologist magazine. He’s a pioneer of LASEK laser eye surgery, which combines many of the benefits of other vision correction surgeries.


What makes Sunil unique is as well as being an active researcher and innovator, he is the International Medical Director for the charity Khmer Sight Foundation (KSF), saving eyesight in Cambodia. This is the work he is most proud of – he hopes to save the sight of thousands of people who can’t afford eye surgery. He reveals: “Whilst it is nice to be recognised for my research, teaching and clinical work, my passion for helping make life better for the 28,000 Cambodians who go blind each year is uppermost in my thoughts”. Sunil points out that 90% of blindness is avoidable, 79% is curable and 11% is preventable.


Sunil dedicates 2 hours a day to KSF and makes the journey to the KSF Mission Cambodia several times a year. He also represents the charity at international events describing his work at the Foundation as being a refreshing and humbling experience.


Back in 2016 Sunil made an appeal via Facebook for volunteers willing to travel to Cambodia and provide their services for free. He was genuinely overwhelmed by the response. Around 120 friends, colleagues and ex-students responded, including 90 ophthalmologists, drawn primarily from the UK, but also from Germany, Austria, Italy, Singapore and India. These volunteers travelled at their own expense to freely donate their time, undertaking 3,000 operations in a 3-month period.


Sunil admits that the challenge in Cambodia is intense, with 38 ophthalmologists serving a population of 15 million, with only 25 able to operate. The backlog exceeded 300,000 patients. In 2017, the goal was to screen 20,000 Cambodians in need of eye care and perform up to 10,000 cataract surgeries. But being realistic, bringing in volunteers from around the world to perform eye surgery isn’t sustainable, although there is still a need for volunteers.


Training is the key. For the last 10 years KSF has been trying to bridge the gap by importing foreign experts to train the next generation of eye care health professionals. Sunil has confirmed that the goal is to develop a new charity hospital in Cambodia and improve the standard of training in the country, as well as encouraging collaboration with local stakeholders.


To meet Professor Shah, witness him perform live surgery and ask your questions, register free for Optrafair 20/20. Professor Shah is one of many world-class speakers at Optrafair 20/20, where the focus is firmly on technology. Find out more about Optrafair at To find out more about the Khmer Sight Foundation please click here.

the Khmer Sight Foundation

Date: 05/02/2020