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Today we visited the Tilganga Eye Centre, which houses the Fred Hollow Foundation and their lens laboratory. The tour was particularly special because it is rare for visiting groups to be allowed behind the scenes.
You could almost forget where you are when you step into the lens laboratory. The high-tech machines and the crisp white walls seem a world away from the dusty brown scene outside the walls of the hospital. The only clue otherwise is a 1990s fridge nestled among the whirring equipment. This is where the foundation makes inexpensive artificial lenses that make eye operations more accessible for more Nepalese people.
We also visited the Nepalese Eye Bank, where donated corneas are collected and vetted for use in sight-regaining operations. Nepal used to import corneas, but thanks to a brilliant marketing campaign the bank now collects enough of them for Nepalese operations and to export them to other countries. This change is particularly impressive given that many Nepalese people believe that if your body is not left intact after you die your next incarnation will be disabled. Staff at the hospital visited the neighbouring Pashinputinath cremation site and convinced families to donate their deceased loved one’s corneas, and the campaign started from there. Now many people carry donation cards, similar to the organ donation cards in Australia.
The hospital itself is very crowded. There are at least two examination points in every room and the emergency room seemed full. However, most of the eye operations take very little time so the line moves quickly. The operations are interesting too. A small camera in the operating theatre streams live to a television in a viewing room next door, so family members can watch the operation. One family was happy to let us watch with them. The patient’s successful cataract removal surgery took all of five minutes. It was very interesting, particularly as the guide was explaining that they take these services to remote Nepal and how much it helps the locals. They do wonderful work, but as I watched the close up of the doctors sticking medical instruments into the woman’s eye I knew that journalism, not health sciences, was the right choice for me. There was only so much I could watch.
This post was modified from the original entry on my personal blog, Erin’s Written World.