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N. Z. Grand Priory, in Vietnam

New Zealand Eye Specialist in Vietnam

In May 1988, a New Zealand eye specialist team returned to Vietnam for the fourth time (4th).

The team's eye surgeon, Dr. John Chapman-Smith, and our own Chevalier Neil Ritchie KLJ, optometrist of the Auckland Commandery, carried out cataract and eyelid surgery on leprosy patients at Qui Hoa, the largest leprosy centre in Vietnam.

The Qui Hoa leprosy centre was established, in 1929, by French nuns in a secluded valley, located 5 kilometers from Qui Nhon city. Since the first visit by the New Zealand team, in 1933 (funded by the Pacific Leprosy Foundation), this hospital has grown and now tends to one-hundred, sixty (160) in-patients, and six hundred (600) out-patients.

By 1996, an eye clinic and theatre had been constructed and Doctor Hoang, a young trainee, in 1993, had been taught cataract and implant surgery to the stage of being able to continue this work by himself.

The 1998 trip provided more useful training and additional equipment for Doctor Hoang. The New Zealand Grand Bailiwick (now a Grand Priory) of Saint Lazarus presented Dr Hoang with the newest edition of the Ophthamic textbook. The very considerable costs of the team, and for the equipment was met by funds from four firms, two Auckland Rotary Clubs, and the New Zealand Vietnam Health Trust. The Order of St. Lazarus also made donations.

An important contact was made with a leprosy centre at Kon Tum, which is located 200 kilometers away in the Central Highlands. This centre cares for the indigenous Ba Na people. There, seventy-five (75) patients were examined, some operated on under natural light, and others scheduled to travel to Qui Hoa for surgery. Hopefully, a permanent link was formed.

Overall, the team examined 227 patients and carried out 47 operations. It was demanding work with long queues of patients in +36%C heat and 100% humidity for surgery. All this taking place in Qui Hoa, for 14 days without a break.

None of this would have been possible without the voluntary labours of Dr. Chapman-Smith and Chevalier Ritchie.


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Last updated on March 23, 2004.