June 1, 2011
Once again Peggy Jean and I were attending a training session for the Better Vision for Better Life (BVBL) project. Overall, the project has met a need for eye screening and care at the village level in Khammoune province, as well as built capacity for screening from the teachers and village health workers (VHWs) at the community level all the way up to administrators at the district level. Also, the project provided needed ophthalmology equipment at the provincial level.
At the beginning of the week, we made it for the second, and last, day of a refresher course for clinicians working at health centers in Xiaboutong district. After over an hour on a dirt road, we arrived at the rather impressive district office where the training was held. Over thirty men and women filled the front of a large conference hall. All were prepared for the last few hours of the program with IRD-produced eye health manuals and paper and pen ready to jot down important notes. All participants were quietly attentive, listening as Dr. Sambath Darasouk, the only ophthalmologist for Khammoune province, reviewed common eye diseases.
In contrast, the training Peggy Jean and I attended at the end of the week was the first day of a two-day training, this time for the district level health and education administrators. It was held in Thakek, the provincial capital, in an effort to provide sustainability for the BVBL program through a train-the-trainer system. While this training covered many of the same concepts covered in the training for clinicians, including how to conduct a basic visual acuity screening, other issues were raised. Unlike the previous training we attended, the district administrators were engaged not just in learning new material, but also in discussing the funding for the continued program.Once IRD had provided them with the skill set, where would they get the money to hold trainings for clinicians, teachers and VHWs? Also, once a child has been identified as having poor vision, where would the funds to supply glasses or provide cataract surgery come from? At once, Dr. Sambath Darasouk alleviated concern by explaining what the government would be responsible for, and what IRD would be able to supply.
As the day of training drew to a close, the opthamologist reminded us all of the purpose in our being there that day. Projected on the wall, he showed photo after photo of children with glasses or who had received surgery—children who may now be able to attend school for the first time.