I live in Mongolia, the least crowded country in the world, where good quality health services are scarce, especially in the rural areas. For example, a child in need of wearing eyeglasses to see normally, as any child has the right to, has no choice but to travel up to a 1000 km… for an eyeglass.
This was the case until Orbis International implemented (and continues to implement) several projects to support eye care for children in Mongolia. The project has developed a training curriculum in refraction and has trained 15 rural ophthalmologists out of 21 provinces, who are now capable of providing good quality optical services in their respective areas.
An example that highlights our achievements would be the work of Dr. Baymbasuren from Uvurkhangai aimag who has received refraction training in 2015 conducted by Orbis. Although she had been working there for almost 15 years, she wasn’t capable of prescribing spectacles as refraction had not been taught to her during her training. After her training and spreading word about the new services available in the aimag she was able to make a difference in her remote area – in one case she was able to help a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy who couldn’t afford to travel the vast distance to the capital to see a specialist.
This project has initiated the first-ever, school-based eye health screening programme. The project gave us some insights on the magnitude of refractive error among children in Mongolia (15%), the barriers to the uptake of glasses (only 30% can afford to buy glasses) and challenges around eye health among school children and rural communities. Thanks to the advocacy efforts undertaken by Dr. Byambasuren and the project team, the engagement and support from the Ministry of Health has been excellent. This led to the decision of the MOH to celebrate Child Health Day in the last week of each September.
Managing outreach programmes is challenging. Travelling across vast distances to visit the project sites can be adventurous sometimes, being stuck in the mud or snow in the middle of nowhere – then being assisted by the local nomadic people, experiencing their hospitality, and witnessing their challenges help me to truly understand the real life in remote areas of Mongolia. Delivering eye services to children living in remote areas can but hard, but ultimately rewarding. It is great to see the changes in the lives of many people because of our programmes.