CooperVision’s 2017 Fight for Sight Ambassador, Joe Tanner, Professional Services Manager from Australia, recently visited Vietnam to see how our support of Optometry Giving Sight is helping to advance optometry and provide vision care to those in need. He returned home with a renewed appreciation of our fundraising efforts’ impact, and offers this first-hand look.
“Hello! How old are you?” asked a seven-year-old boy with a beaming smile. Children in Vietnam like to practice their English, so I heard this greeting many times during my week there. I visited several locations, witnessing the good work being done to improve eyesight for children and adults. The need for vision care is great—nearly 13 percent of the population is vision impaired, with approximately one-third due to uncorrected refractive error (URE).
Day one began by meeting with optometry faculty at Hanoi Medical University (HMU), where the four-year program will graduate its first class in 2019. This is the second of two optometry programs in Vietnam where the population-to-optometrist ratio is an astounding 10.6 million-to-one, and where teachers are desperately needed. While there, I spoke with students about how contact lenses are moving beyond simple vision correction, highlighting our Biofinity Energys™ and MiSight® 1 day products. The myopia epidemic hasn’t spared Vietnam; with 40 percent of the population under age 25, the number of children affected is significantly increasing. Day two was spent at a school where HMU optometry students screened more than 1,000 children ages 11-14, about 100 of which needed vision correction in addition to an estimated 60 percent already wearing glasses.
The next stop was Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where we met with leaders from the optometry department at Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine. Thirteen students will soon graduate and plans are underway to expand the course. I also spoke with students whose questions ranged from more fully establishing optometry as a recognized profession in Vietnam to contact lens fitting techniques and myopia.
On day four, the students joined me on a visit to the Nguyen Dinh Chieu Special School for blind and visually impaired. It was touching to see some of the children with slightly better vision look after their more affected classmates during screenings. Watching small children help guide each other from one classroom to another is an image that will stay with me.
Day five was spent in Vung Tau, where we worked with the team from Ba Ria Provincial Eye Hospital to screen hundreds more children. Several with URE were identified, including an 11-year-old girl with five dioptres of myopia. Fortunately, she received a pair of glasses within two hours of her screening, allowing her to confidently participate in her daily activities and more fully realize her academic potential. We also visited the hospital itself, where its management expressed sincere gratitude for CooperVision’s support (and, as we toured the site, I spotted prominent advertising for our Paragon CRT lenses).
Before departing, we made the short journey to Long Son Island, home to around 10,000 mostly older residents. The Ba Ria team comes here annually to screen for eye disease and URE. Large numbers of seniors were waiting when we arrived. Prominent, CooperVision-adorned event banners made me proud to work for a company that is committed to help change lives for the better. As I saw first-hand, the funds we raise are making a real difference. Being a CooperVision Fight for Sight Ambassador has been an unforgettable experience, and I’m grateful for the opportunity, even if I did have to keep telling school children my age!