Award for charity that helps Bolivian locals with eye diseases

Pieter Gouws
Pieter Gouws

A hospital consultant who helped set up a charity to treat impoverished locals in the Amazon with eye diseases has won an award.

Pieter Gouws, one of the Conquest’s consultant ophthalmologists and clinical lead, launched Andean Medical Mission (AMM) in 2011 with Dave Goldsmith, Hasneyth Renjel, Luke Membrey, Steve Byard and Saj Khan.

This week it was awarded Charity Initiative of the Year by the Association of Optometrists and Mr Gouws accepted the accolade on AMM’s behalf.

He said: “Andean Medical Mission was established because no eye care services exist in northern Bolivia. Although there are ophthalmologists and optometrists in the main cities, no one has attempted to provide services to the remote areas of the Bolivian Amazon.

“Since 2011 we have visited the region of Itenez in Bolivia yearly, screening more than 1,800 eye patients, providing surgery to 402 patients and prescription glasses to 50 school children, free of charge.

“The province of Itenez can only be reached by small plane in four to six hours or a two-day journey across the jungle on dirt roads.

“Our work in the Amazon in the summer was the most ambitious to date.

“We managed to screen 800 people this year and completed 120 sight-saving operations over the four weeks and 12 villages we worked within.

“Our surgery was much smoother as we brought a superb team of theatre nurses with us which really made a difference to our efficiency and patient safety.

“We made about 100 pairs of glasses for the first time and worked closely with Jesus Duran, a Bolivian ophthalmologist.

“We operated on our first blind baby (Anna Rosa) giving her a real chance in life. She would never have had this if it wasn’t for the mission as she was born blind with bilateral congenital cataracts.

“The skill of the team and the amazing donations we receive from our supporters made it possible for her to see for the first time. Thank you so much.

“Our Spanish optometrists and ophthalmologist were a great addition to the mission and probably the reason we got through so many patients in the second half of the trip this year as compared to previous years. We will look to repeat this in 2015.

“We also took part in a study of pterygium, a blinding disease that affects up to 38 per cent of Amazonians.

“It was great to be part of this and to work with the vision science department of Ulster University and the University of San Simon in Bolivia. We hope that we will understand this disease better and how to treat pterygia more effectively or prevent it as a result of what we learn.”

Mr Gouws will be running the Hastings Half Marathon on Sunday, March 22 to help with continued fundraising for the charity. People can support him on Charity Choice by sponsoring his efforts.

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For further information on the charity and a images of the places and people please visit the charity’s website at