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Aiming to provide care to those without means, a team from the Institute, with the support and backup of the Fundación Fernández-Vega, participated again in an expedition to Cambodia, the seventh already, with the only objective of being close and being able to help those who need it the most

The Foundation always travels to the country hand in hand with Monsignor Enrique Figaredo, better known as Kike, Apostolic Prefect of Battamang, where he has developed a highly important humanitarian operation that has led to the cooperation with the Institute amongst other initiatives.

On this occasion Drs Beatriz and Mónica Fernández-Vega, optometrist Javier Lozano and ophthalmologist Javier Nicieza – who despite not being part of the IOFV’s medical team, has volunteered on several occasions to collaborate with the Fundación Fernández-Vega in this country and, further more, is a personal friend of Kike Figaredo, constituted the team.

Dr Beatriz Fernández-Vega, Javier Lozano and I are old acquaintances of Cambodia and we are thrilled to repeat the experience because it enables us to approach other realities and to bring ophthalmology to places where it would not reach otherwise,” says Dr Nicieza.

However, it is the first time Dr Mónica Fernandez-Vega participates. “This is my first trip to Cambodia. I was really looking forward to going and playing my small part in that great operation led by Kike Figaredo. Despite the long hours, there is great satisfaction at seeing how happy they are after each consultation. It has been a unique experience for me and I hope to be able to get under way cataract surgery in the next few years and continue to collaborate in this great task,” she says.

Places where they provided assistance

During this trip, which took place at the end of last year and which lasted 9 days, the team travelled to different locations within the Prefecture of Battamang. “Healthcare is not economically accessible for the majority of individuals over there,” stated Dr Beatriz.

The team focused a great amount of their work at the healthcare centre – PetYiey Chi- in Battamang. “We attended at the Prefecture all those individuals who chose to approach, but we also travelled to other areas,” explained Dr Beatriz Fernández-Vega.

They also provided eye care to over 100 employees – mostly disabled- of a textile factory established by Monsignor Kike Figaredo in collaboration with Vicente Laborda, as well as attending all the children of the area at a parish in Tahenwhere. As a novelty, the team performed consultations at SiemReap, the Jesuit centre under the direction of Sister Denise, an Australian nun who has been cooperating with the Prefecture in Battamang for many years.

“The work we carry out regularly in Cambodia consists of performing an eye examination and, if necessary, providing the patient with the appropriate spectacles for his refractive defect. These glasses are anonymously donated by the patients of the Institute and other institutions, amongst which we can highlight the Nursing home Nuestra Señora de Covadonga in Pola de Siero, where Sister Esmeralda is responsible for collecting spectacles throughout the area,” says Dr Beatriz.

Likewise, we perform eye fundus explorations, eye pressure controls, biomicroscopy and surgeries. Up until now we have only been able to perform eye plastic surgery, but we have launched the project to be able to perform cataract surgery and more complicated surgery procedures needing anaesthesia and even, in some cases, hospital admission, during our next mission.

The IOFV team cared for over 200 patients in each long working day, which started and finished with the sun. But, as they always say, “they make all our effort worthwhile when they smile”

“This year we took 169 prescription glasses and 68 sunglasses donated by our patients, and furthermore, the Fundación Fernández-Vega gave us another 100 glasses to fight the sun and presbyopia,” explains optometrist Javier Lozano. To this we still need to add another 350 spectacles that were specifically bought for the mission.

Thank you Battambang

The experience gathered by the Foundation simplifies the organisation of the trip from Oviedo for the team that is going to travel, and provides them with first-hand information of the ocular needs of the area. “Up until now we have always been accompanied by different physicians in each trip,” says Javier Lozano. Thus, they know which material they need to take. Furthermore, every year they leave behind equipment and spectacles to use in the following expedition or that will be helpful to other physicians who travel to the area.

It goes without saying that if there is something that makes the team’s stay in Cambodia easier, it it’s the great welcome it receives in the Prefecture headed by Kike. “His nephew, Ramón Figaredo is crucial, as he helps us with logistics; Marta Oriol, the coordinator of the healthcare centre these last two years helps us organise our work over there and Jimena Alonso acts as a link between Oviedo and Cambodia”, says Javier Lozano appreciatively.

All in all, approximately 30 hours travel and over 200 kg luggage between spectacles, surgical material and everything necessary for 9 days in the Asian continent. Their only vocation? To help as much as possible the most disadvantaged sectors of the population. Next year, harder and better.