Myanmar has only about 300 ophthalmologists, a ratio of one to 200,000 people, one quarter of the World Health Organization's target.
"In Myanmar, I was honored to be asked to lead the advanced cataract surgery section on this historic teaching mission. Teaching is a passion of mine. The difficulty is taking an extended period of time off my private practice in Minneapolis, but I made it happen and it was all that I hoped it would be," said Gullingsrud.
The four-day Myanmar Eye Meeting, conducted by the Hawaiian Eye Foundation in partnership with Yangon Eye Hospital, was attended by about 50 Burmese ophthalmology students and practicing ophthalmologists. A wide range of topics, including cataracts, glaucoma, and corneal and retina disorders were covered in lectures, patient consultations, and diagnostic equipment demonstrations.
Immediately following the Myanmar Eye Meeting, Gullingsrud and fellow faculty members traveled from Yangon to Hue, Vietnam, to participate in the foundation's fifth biennial Imperial City Eye Meeting. Gullingsrud has been involved in all five of these meetings since the inaugural in 2006.
"Since the 2006 conference, I have made several friends in Vietnam, including hosting two of its primary organizer MDs for short-term fellowships at my practice in Minnesota," said Gullingsrud. "So, I was excited to return to Vietnam for many reasons – teaching, revisiting a beautiful country and seeing Vietnamese ophthalmologist friends and meeting their families."
Gullingsrud and fellow faculty members traveled to Myanmar and Vietnam at their own expense to donate their time.
"Teaching eye surgeons in their own countries provides the best means of transferring ophthalmologic knowledge," said Gullingsrud in explaining his reason for consistent participation. "Improvement in healthcare delivery for a nation is no small goal. The doctors in these countries, for political and financial reasons, had not been able to gain knowledge from colleagues in other countries the traditional way, which is to attend an organized ophthalmology teaching conference. We essentially brought the conference to them, and made sure we were teaching worthwhile subjects and asking leaders in their respective fields to become faculty members, to insure a quality learning experience for the Vietnamese and Burmese."
The non-profit Hawaiian Eye Foundation, based in Honolulu, has sponsored ophthalmic training programs in Southeast Asia since 2006, and for 30 years has conducted humanitarian eye surgery expeditions to Pacific island nations, including Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Palau, Marshall Islands, Vanuatu and Kiribati.