By Tang Lu
MALE, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) — Five years ago, 73-year-old Abdullah Hussein had cataract surgery done on his left eye, but there was no significant improvement in his vision and his right eye was also deteriorating.
The elderly man feared he would lose sight in both eyes, and he felt dejected and refused to see anymore doctors.
“Since I would be blind anyway, I told myself that I will spend the rest of my life listening to the radio,” Hussein told Xinhua.
But an announcement over the media gave hope to Hussein’s sons. A team of expert Chinese ophthalmologists would be seeing patients in the newly established China-Maldives Ophthalmic Centre at the Hulhumale Hospital.
They dragged the old man to the ophthalmic centre.
An eye center nurse, who conducted preliminary tests, found that Hussein’s condition was quite bad. “The right eye could see nothing but light,” the nurse told Xinhua.
But after a simple 10-minute surgery a whole new world dawned on Hussein. He was overjoyed when he could see the Chinese doctor smiling at him.
Hussein returned to the hospital the next day for a follow-up check. The vision in the right eye had returned to 20/100, and the vision in the left eye improved to 20/40 after laser treatment.
He looked at the faces of the Chinese doctors and nurses, and clearly satisfied with his vision, gave a grateful “thumbs up.”
The Maldives, a magnet for tourists, lies close to the equator and receives strong ultraviolet rays. As a result, there are high numbers of cataract patients. Due to an insufficient number of ophthalmologists, equipment shortages, and inconvenient transportation, cataract patients often do not receive timely treatment.
But the gap was filled by Chinese doctors from the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center, Sun Yat-sen University (ZOC) in Guangdong.
From Jan. 6 to Jan. 12 this year, Chinese doctors performed eye examinations on 571 patients and completed 80 ophthalmic surgeries, including cataract, ocular surface, vitreoretinal and external eye surgeries, as well as laser treatments.
On arrival at the clinic many patients were seen to be frowning and looking dejected. Conversely, when they left, they were full of smiles and cheer.
Many patients and their family members were seen flocking to take photos with the Chinese medical staff with their mobile phones.
Abdullah Ali, a cataract patient, travelled seven hours by boat from his home, 114 km away. Two years ago, Dr. Chen Weirong, deputy director of Affiliated Ophthalmic Hospital of ZOC performed cataract surgery on his left eye, which had been a complete success. Ali had been expecting to have the cataract removed from his right eye too.
“I heard that the expert Chinese doctors are here. I rushed with two friends from my island home. What surprised me was that the surgeon who performed the operation on me this time happened to be Dr. Chen! ” Ali said.
This time, the team led by Dr. Chen Weirong not only performed ophthalmic surgery, but more importantly, left a permanent medical team in the Maldives to establish an ophthalmic center.
“The establishment of an ophthalmology center at Hulhumale Hospital was the joint-decision of the Chinese and Maldivian governments after careful inspection and research. According to the plan, this Chinese government-assisted project will be undertaken by ZOC,” Dr. Chen said.
“A modern eye center serves as a platform, not only to provide eye care for patients, but also to train medical staff,” she told Xinhua.
Dr. Chen further said that there is a huge difference between helping to build an eye hospital and carrying out a medical relief project like “Bright Journey.”
The decision indicates that China’s foreign medical aid model has moved away from simply sending medical teams, to building small specialized hospitals and training local medical staff so as to offer long-term service to the local people.
“It is a paradigm shift,” she said.
At the eye center, the patients were very grateful to China, with “Thanks China!” frequently heard echoing down the corridors.
Shah Abdullah Mahir, State Minister of Health of the Maldives, who observed the Chinese doctors at work in the operating room, said that the establishment of an eye center is an important step made with a long-term vision.
In recent days, the operating room has become a place for local medical staff to observe and learn from the Chinese doctors. After conducting operations, Chinese medical staff then carefully explain key aspects of the operation and the handling of various microsurgical instruments.
Fathmath Wafaa, a nurse working in the operating room, said “Chinese doctors are very skilled, their nurses have taught us a lot, and the engineers are constantly instructing us on how to use the various instruments.”
Chinese doctors have also become a topic on Maldivian social media. Netizen Nassim said he has never seen other governments provide such high-quality medical service to the Maldives. Another, Shah said “I hope China’s ophthalmic center can maintain their high level and stay here.”
In response to the expectations of locals, Dr. Chen said that the establishment of an ophthalmology center is a public welfare project that promotes people’s livelihood and benefits them in many other ways. The Chinese doctors will do their best for the people of the Maldives, she assured.
The China-Maldives ophthalmology center was unveiled ceremoniously on Monday by Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Chinese Ambassador to the Maldives Zhang Lizhong.
In his address, the Maldivian president thanked the Chinese medical team for setting up the centre and rendering valuable and very professional services in the Maldives.
Ambassador Zhang said that the China-Maldives Ophthalmology Centre is the first modern ophthalmology clinic set up by China as foreign aid and the first cooperation project between China and the Maldives in the field of health.
Dr. Chen, head of the Ophthalmology Centre, said that it will always provide high-quality medical services to local patients and will help the Maldives train a high-level ophthalmological team.
Between 2016 and 2017, the Chinese medical team visited the Maldives twice to carry out consultancies and operations. Chinese doctors had performed free cataract surgeries at that time. ■
(The featured image at the top shoes Hussein gives a “thumbs up” towards the camera after the surgery (Xinhua/Tang Lu)