If you want to make an impact on treatable blindness in a foreign country, you have two main options.
You could take a medical team to the community and perform several surgeries over a week.
“That's a wonderful, wonderful thing to do,” said Dr. Bradley Farris, a professor of ophthalmology at the Dean McGee Eye Institute. “And it will have a very small impact on the community because once you leave, you're done. There's no ongoing help.”
Or you could do what Farris and a team of doctors have been doing for about 10 years.
Farris and other doctors with the Dean McGee Eye Institute have been traveling to China's Sichuan province for more than 10 years to teach and share surgical practices.
About 90 million people live in the province. Of that, an estimated 1 million people are blind from cataracts, a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision, according to the National Eye Institute.
“Blind meaning they can't work, they can't work on a farm, they can't work in the rural areas, they can't work anywhere, and a simple 15-minute cataract procedure could restore vision and restore their ability to work,” Farris said.
In 2001, doctors from the institute traveled to China and saw the need for more surgeons to address treatable blindness in the region.
Originally, the doctors planned the trip simply to perform cataracts surgery for people in the Sichuan Province.
But it became clear that the medical education system in China wasn't training enough surgeons to address the need for ophthalmological care.
It has been estimated only 30 surgeons in Sichuan Province can adequately perform a good cataracts surgery.
And in rural China, there aren't any cataracts surgeons.
In contrast, in Oklahoma City, about 30 physicians work at Dean McGee Eye Institute, and Oklahoma has only a fraction of the population of the Sichuan Province, Farris said.
Over the past 10 years, the relationship between the Oklahoma and Chinese doctors has developed into an extensive partnership.
The Dean McGee Eye Institute and Sichuan Provincial People's Hospital have developed a residency program to teach residents who will graduate and perform eye surgeries in China.
And recently, Chinese health officials announced plans to build a $30 million 97,000-square-foot facility, using Dean McGee as a model for the facility's structure.
Ophthalmologists have the ability to change lives by performing a cataracts surgery, which takes only about 15 minutes to perform, said Dr. Gregory Skuta, the president of Dean McGee Eye Institute.
The Sichuan Province is one of the largest in China, and the ophthalmological needs are considerable, Skuta said.
“And I think the ability for us have impact is high,” Skuta said. “With the economic growth in China, they have the resources to really move the medical system forward in a very meaningful way, and we would like to be part of that, if we can.”
With the economic growth in China, they have the resources to really move the medical system forward in a very meaningful way, and we would like to be part of that, if we can.”
Dr. Gregory Skuta,
president of Dean