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Why Eye Care is Important – for Bangladesh and Other Countries

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By Naimul Haq

DHAKA (IDN) – John Bob Ranck, also known as Bob, Chief Executive Officer and President at Orbis International, recently visited Bangladesh on a special mission. He travelled to some of the hospitals where Orbis as a partner has been supporting Bangladesh’s efforts in addressing avoidable blindness.

Bob, a retired United States Air Force Brigadier General, came to Bangladesh a few weeks after the memorable visit of the teaching hospital or better known as the Flying Eye Hospital’s (FEH) training programme in Bangladesh. (P49) FRENCH | HINDI | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | PORTUGUESE | TURKISH | URDU

Bob who joined Orbis International on February 29, 2016 spoke to Naimul Haq, IDN-INPS Correspondent in Bangladesh, about the needs of and support for eye health in the South Asian country and shared his experiences of addressing problems of avoidable blindness, especially childhood blindness.

Bob said: “For every dollar you put in for sight restoration you get 4 dollars back.” Recent studies of retiring people in a particular industry who discontinued working because they were not able to focus on objects properly, showed that when they were equipped with spectacles they were able to continue working for at least another ten to fifteen years.

He added: “How many businesses would love to have their most skilled workers stay on their jobs for another decade? But we don’t think about that because it doesn’t make headlines. Extending productivity of adults this way could provide great business opportunities and hence help lift people out of poverty. Besides, adults retained in the workforce are in the government’s interest. It is a business case and I don’t think we put that business case out in front of the people.”

“One of the best things that I can do is to support Orbis Bangladesh in the development of new partners and let them know that Orbis International is behind the efforts and behind what they want to do,” said Bob. For a population of 160 million people in Bangladesh there are only 34 pediatric ophthalmologists. In the United States there is one pediatric ophthalmologist for every 400,000 people. “So, it’s two and half per million. And that’s what our newest efforts are about.”

“We are going to try and train more pediatric ophthalmologists and anesthesiologists who can also help in the efforts because there is such an incredible need and children deserve a chance. They won’t get a chance unless they have eye care. And frankly, parents of a visually impaired child understand the difficulties of their child when they see him struggling in school to read what is on the blackboard, or who cannot play or who is clumsy. By starting to help the efforts of Orbis Bangladesh we can help in an area where there is a huge deficit.”

“What I can do as the chief of the organization from outside is to look at the Orbis programmes around the world.” Currently the organization is implementing 56 programmes in 18 countries, “and perhaps we could take lessons from other countries where similar but very effective programmes are in progress and we could collaborate to shape things differently that are valuable here in Bangladesh.”

“I could facilitate collaboration that could lead to enhancing skills of stakeholders here in Bangladesh by learning from other countries,” Bob said. For instance, the development of a new application for an eye care hospital in, say for instance, in China and sharing the same in Bangladesh could perhaps greatly help doctors or other staff members. So I can help in this way by learning from global community where Orbis works.

Bob, also a pilot having over 30 years of experience as a strategist and team leader, talked about how to do good and achieving the good things. He said that people feel good to give but what is the result of that giving? “So if you give to an organization that is building a population of eye care professionals so that more and more people get care – in fact, you are changing society, families and communities – it is a lasting change.”

He referred to Philanthropy Age which has a motto of ‘”making every dollar count” and said: “Philanthropy Age community was born with the philosophy of Zakat (followed in Islam religion). The organization believes in not just giving but ensuring effective use of funds. Philanthropy Age has a partnership with Orbis now funding a three-year training programme and we are building a simulation centre so that doctors can get hands on training without having to touch a patient in the basic skills, much like a pilot where there are opportunities for perfection through trial and error without actually harming anyone.”

He added: “We want to help Bangladesh access such technology in which doctors should be able to practice simulation surgeries so that a doctor does not learn lessons practicing on a child’s eye. The first time you operate on a child you want to be perfect. And so they are doing wonderful to see what they are focused on.”

“The FEH is a state of the art – it’s got the latest machines, new hospital airflow technology to prevent infections, latest practice in how you walk through doors that prevents infection and many more latest technologies. We can orient local doctors on what is the next state of the art technology for them,” said Bob.

“Sometimes it’s not helpful to go from what you do now to state of the art technology because the jump is often too big. We can help doctors go from state of the art to the next state that is useful. We can also advise doctors on what new technology they should be looking for. And so helping them in this manner is more valuable than just saying here is the state of the art technology.”

“The reason I am saying this is that sometimes state of the art technology comes with bill for consumables and support that’s not affordable. And so you want to be able to do state of the possible and consumables that are long lasting. What we do is we bring in biomedical technicians and people who are experienced in repairing machines.”

Bob added: “We don’t want to go back to a country where a piece of equipment is broken and nobody is able to repair it. We want to ensure that they can maintain the equipment and keep it running optimally. So I am in favour of a sustainable development – bring capabilities that are long lasting, that would help people in the long run.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 March 2018]

Photo: John Bob Ranck, Chief Executive Officer and President at Orbis International. Credit: Naimul Haq | IDN-INPS

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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