Nearly 300 blind and visually disabled individuals in the District of Vinh Linh, Quang Tri Province, Vietnam, will have access to services, life skills and job training as a result of a project sponsored by the Illinois Association of Ophthalmology (IAO) in partnership with the Global Community Service Foundation (GCSF).
The Vinh Linh facility was dedicated today in a ceremony on the site in Quang Tri Province, and attended by three IAO officials and other interested individuals from the Chicago area and suburbs.
"I am especially proud of this project and the humanitarian dedication of the Illinois Association of Ophthalmology," said Ronald C. May, MD, IAO's program coordinator. "This area has continued to face economic challenges and major social challenges for the past 40 years, and the fact that Illinois ophthalmologists and patients have been willing to fund this project is a very good example of how people in two distant countries can work together to produce positive change."
The Vinh Linh District sits virtually on top of the former "DMZ" (demilitarized zone) that separated the north and south during the Vietnam War. With a population of about 91,000, it is among the poorest areas in the country and continues to suffer the effects of Agent Orange defoliant, land mines and other unexploded ordnance.
The Vinh Linh Blind facility was funded by nearly 100 Illinois ophthalmologists and patients from throughout state - including many from Chicago and the suburbs - as well as the ophthalmic company Alcon, Inc., through contributions totaling approximately $60,000. The GCSF is a Fairfax, Virginia-based foundation dedicated to creating sustainable community development projects in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries.
Dr. May, a north suburban ophthalmologist and IAO's project coordinator, received the association's first "Humanitarian Award" for his ongoing efforts to help the people of Vietnam with the Vinh Linh effort and other projects to enhance the professional education of Vietnamese ophthalmologists.
In addition to dozens of Dr. May's patients who made contributions, also of note is Nikki Katz, a 13-year old resident of Deerfield and the daughter of ophthalmologist James Katz, MD. For her Bat Mitzvah project, she raised $1,200 from friends, family and neighbors, including a booth at the Deerfield farmer's market. Miss Katz and her family were among those attending today's dedication ceremony for the facility in Vinh Linh.
GCSF President Marcia Selva credited her Quang Tri Province staff, particularly Nguyen Xuan Tam, who spearheaded the foundation's work with local officials.
"The Vinh Linh facility will provide the blind and visually disabled individuals with life skills and job training so that they can be productive, independent members of the community and no longer a burden on their families," Selva said. She added that the support from Alcon made possible a dedicated room that will be used for eye exams and cataract education and outreach. Selva noted that treatable cataracts is the top cause of blindness in the country of Vietnam.
Cataracts are when the natural lens within the eye becomes cloudy and impairs vision. In severe cases, the lens may become completely opaque. Cataract is treated by surgically removing the lens and replacing it with an artificial lens.
The Illinois Association of Ophthalmology is a statewide professional society representing ophthalmologists (Eye M.D.s) providing education, advocacy and public service projects. With headquarters in Vernon Hills, it has more than 400 members in Chicago, the suburbs and downstate Illinois. The IAO is celebrating its 40th year in 2010.
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