My name is Rachel Andrews and I have recently retired from my position of paediatric and adult Ophthalmic Sister at West Suffolk Hospital’s Eye Treatment Centre in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Having worked in Ophthalmology for the last 25 years, I still have a real passion for this area of medicine and in 2006 it led me to Moulvibazar BNSB Eye Hospital in Bangladesh.

Moulvibazar Eye Hospital is a little hospital in North East Bangladesh. In 2006 I visited with a small team to help train the doctors and nurses in ophthalmic nursing and surgery. We went with the charity ORBIS who are part of the World Health Organization initiative, Vision 2020, working to eliminate avoidable world blindness by the year 2020.

The hospital was founded in 1972 by an Ophthalmologist who wanted to bring eye care to the very poor population in the district of Moulvibazar. That visit in 2006 changed my life and began arelationship with the Bengali people which has led me to form this charity – Vision for Bangladesh.

There are more than 39 million people worldwide suffering from unnecessary blindness. 800,000 of these live in Bangladesh and 40,000 of these are children. Sadly, more than half of these are due to cataracts which could be surgically treated.

Early surgical intervention is crucial to prevent irreversible blindness, especially for a child.

80% of the population live in remote rural villages so there are difficulties reaching these children. The child in this picture will be blind for life.

The hospital operates on 4000 patients per year, who all come from a large surrounding catchment area, many patients come over the border from India . The hospital sends out teams of professionals to reach the people in the rural areas. The patients are screened and anyone needing treatment is sent to the hospital. For some of the patients, transport to the hospital has to be provided.

The majority of the original team I worked with in 2006 are still at the hospital and we have become close friends, communicating on a weekly basis when I am back in the UK.

One of our first teaching sessions showed them the sterile technique of putting on surgical gloves.

There have been many nursing practices I have been able to teach them, they are a pleasure to educate, with a keen spirit to learn and a sense of fun in every situation.

One of the most important changes we made was the handling of the child and parent in the operating theatre. It is always better if the mother can stay with the child until anaesthesia is induced, this keeps mother and child more relaxed and the whole experience less traumatic.

Another illustration of introducing good nursing practice was the organisation of the nurses scrub trolley. The trolley should be neat and tidy with every instrument identifiable in an emergency. Sharps should be handled carefully and disposed of in the right manner. When advising best practice in Bangladesh, most of the time it can only be implemented if there is no cost incurred

Likewise the operating theatre should be clean and tidy at all times, this is in the interest of Health and Safety, infection control and best nursing practice.

The following images show the operating theatre in 2006 during our first visit and again in 2017 after these practices had been administered over the years.

2008 was a special year for my nursing career as I was credited with the Patients Choice Nurse of the Year Award for helping a 13-year-old boy after he lost one eye in a tragic accident.

The award spurred me on to help Moulvibazar Eye Hospital even more and I returned, independently, to Moulvibazar in 2010. I now visit every other year.

In 2012 I was able to raise £6,000 to send a 40ft shipping container of refurbished NHS ophthalmic equipment to the hospital.

In 2013 I brought Doctor Shah over to the UK from Bangladesh to observe ophthalmic medicine and surgery in this country. I also taught him to cook an omelette!

The hospital perform 4,000 operations on adult and child cataracts every year. This gives the adults a much longer working life and allows the children to go to school and then marry.

Squint surgery is also now being performed at Moulvibazar Hospital. This is also life changing surgery, as without the eye being straightened the child will not be able to marry, and therefore becomes a financial strain on the family in later life.

In 2013 we were able to create a medical library with books donated from the UK. This is now an area where teaching can be done.

The same year the hospital gave me the huge honour of becoming a lifetime member of the hospital.

Sometimes the parents can’t afford for the child to have the surgery. So in 2016 I started a crowdfunding campaign to create a fund of money to pay for surgery for children whose parents were poor. We now have an ongoing account the hospital can request money from to pay for the surgery for these children.

This is a picture of the Men’s Surgical Ward in 2017.

These patients are ready to go home after their surgery in 2017.

Here you can see 19 more children who had received sight-giving surgery during my 2017 visit.

In April 2018 I (with my lovely group of trustees) formed a new charity – Vision for Bangladesh.

We have 6 trustees in total and we aim to do all we can for Moulvibazar Hospital, especially through our fundraising. The money is used for surgery paid for (when the patient is unable), new equipment, nurse/doctor training, plus any other needs that might arise.

Moulvibazar Hospital is run mainly from charitable funds. With 160 staff, the incurring costs are growing, especially as the population become aware of treatment being available. As word spreads that blindness can be cured in a high percentage of patient, the demand is sure to increase.

This photo, of a man in Bangladesh who has just received two seeing eyes says it all for me.

If you would like to donate to our cause and help Vision for Bangladesh in any way, please get in touch with us via: info@vfb.org.uk