Canadian ophthalmologist Dr. Justin French and orthoptist/ophthalmic medical technologist Wanda McFarlane visited Mongolia as part of a contingent to treat preventable blindness in the country.
Dr French has travelled to Mongolia for three consecutive years as part of the Mongolian-Canadian Medical Project. It was the first time for McFarlane, an employee of Dr French’s, who was invited by the doctor to come along.
On previous trips, the group performed the procedures themselves, but has now started teaching local ophthalmologists how to treat preventable blindness in the long-term. The project was started by Dr. Hugh Parsons in 2015. Now the goal is to train 10 ophthalmologists per year in their residency training program, so within five years the procedures can be carried out without any Canadian assistance.
Justin French explained that Mongolian ophthalmologists have traditionally functioned more on the level of an optometrist. While there are a small number of ophthalmologists in the capital of Ulaanbaatar who can perform cataract surgery, the leading cause of preventable blindness, he said it’s not enough for the Mongolian population of three million people.
Hugh Parsons’ work started by bringing a Mongolian ophthalmologist to Canada to teach her how to do retina surgery. He has since raised money to build and open the first publicly-funded retina suite in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.
However, rural Mongolians have to travel long distances to Ulaanbaatar to get eye surgery. So the team also makes two trips a year, in the spring and autumn, to treat cataracts in rural Mongolia. A team of Canadian and local professionals will truck out from Ulaanbaatar across the Gobi Desert, up to 20 hours away, to nomadic communities in the province of Gobi-Altai.