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Professor Sunil Shah, Ophthalmic Surgeon at Midland Eye and The Birmingham and Midland Eye Centre is well known for his expertise as an ophthalmic surgeon, being counted as one of the top 100 most influential in ophthalmology in the world and having transformed the lives of countless patients.
Fewer people however are aware of how Professor Shah combines his passion for ophthalmic surgery with his long running philanthropic endeavours in Cambodia.
As International Medical Chairperson for the Khmer Sight Foundation (KSF), Professor Shah is committed to eliminating avoidable blindness in Cambodia and providing expert clinical training, recognised by overseas professional bodies, for all eye care health professionals.
Speaking about his work Professor Shah said:
“The vision of the Khmer Sight Foundation is to change the provision of eye care in Cambodia where they have no optometrists to provide something as simple as glasses and only 38 ophthalmologists service a population of over 15,000,000. Of the 38 ophthalmologists in the country, only about 25 can operate. In the UK, we have one ophthalmic surgeon for about every 75,000 population (so Cambodia has about one eighth of what it needs without even considering the backlog).
We want to train the next generation of eye care health professionals in Cambodia, so that the country can become self-reliant in the provision of high quality, safe and effective eye care and can eliminate avoidable blindness.
There’s no doubt this is an ambitious project but we are committed to making a real difference.
I dedicate around 2 hours a day to KSF and make the journey to Cambodia several times a year with teams of volunteers to operate on patients and train clinicians. I also represent the charity at international events.
Quite simply we do transform people’s lives. There are many patients I can speak about but one recent gentleman springs to mind; a 55 year old man who had white cataracts in both eyes that were so bad he had to be led around and could only see light and dark. He was the only earner in the family and had no option but to continue his dangerous job working on building sites. The day after surgery on one eye, his eye-sight was UK driving standard. You can imagine there were a lot of tears all round after we competed the surgery on his other eye and restored his full vision.
I often get approached about complex cases that no one in the country can help with, so I also use my network of professional contacts to get the patients treated in other countries such as Australia or India.
At the Khmer Sight Foundation we are helping create a self-sustaining local centre of excellence for eye care training and service delivery in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh and this will enable us to create a one-stop centre for eye screening and operations.
We also help train ophthalmologists so there will be a generation of local specialists ready to take on the challenge of eradicating avoidable blindness, and set up an optometry school.”
Several staff from Midland Eye including Jen Castle, Francesca Marchetti, Pearl Horrell and Sam Hussein have shown their support for the charity by joining Professor Shah on one of his numerous trips to Cambodia.
Mr Shah’s most recent expedition took place from 22 July to 26th July. During their stay, the team saw over 200 patients and performed 120 operations, providing free expert care for hundreds of people suffering from blindness caused by a range of conditions including cataracts, uncorrected vision, glaucoma, corneal scarring and pterygium.
Inspired by this wonderful work, Mandy Hart and Saroj Parmer from Midland Eye are planning to join Sunil on one of his next trips.