Dr. Zvi Segel, Head of Ophthalmology, recently returned from a two week stay in Laos and Cambodia. Dr. Segel traveled as a delegate of "Ein Mitzion (Eyes from Zion)" which sends ophthalmologists on humanitarian aid missions to developing countries. Upon his return, he shared his travel journal about Laos, his meetings with government officials and about the poverty in the streets.

“In late December 2011, an Ophthalmological delegation traveled to two South East Asia countries- Laos and Cambodia. Members of the delegation which included the chair of the Israeli Ophthalmological Society, Prof. Garzuzi, three Department Heads and physicians from various related fields of expertise traveled with "Eyes of Zion."

The purpose of these meetings was to learn about ophthalmology in these places and to offer our assistance wherever needed in ways of collaboration with local ophthalmologists in the fields of diagnosis and conservation and surgical treatment.

Joining the mission was the Israeli ambassador to Vietnam, Mr. Amnon Efrat, director of Laos-Israel relations. Ambassador Efrat assisted in promoting the meetings and bringing in a variety of health care practitioners in ophthalmology as well as the Laos ministry of health. Following our arrival in Laos we met with the chairman of the Laotian Ophthalmological Society, Prof. Viton in the eye clinic located near the Mahosot Hospital in the capital Vientiane. In the meeting, Prof. Viton voiced the insufficiency of medical care and of ophthalmological care in particular. He explained that the main difficulty is the lack of accessibility of medical care particularly the shortage in physicians and local urgent care which are available to the population. For comparison, in all of Laos which includes of seven million people, there are 15 ophthalmologists of which five are surgeons. In Israel alone there are close to eight hundred ophthalmologists. In Laos, most of the population above the age of fifty has a certain degree of cataract and almost half of them need immediate surgery. Prof. Viton stressed the need for medical aid starting with diagnosis and initial treatment especially in rural areas as well as advanced surgical treatment.

The Israeli team raised the subject of humanitarian aid, including the causes for blindness and ways of treatment in Israel. The chairman was impressed with the sincerity of the delegation members and expressed his willingness for future cooperation.

In another meeting held with the Laotian Deputy Minister of Health, Dr. Pishit, the ambassador Efrat, Prof. Viton along with his deputy, and the members of the delegation exhibited the humanitarian aid activity of the Israeli ophthalmologists in Nepal, lead by Dr. Asia. In this meeting, the two sides agreed upon initiating the connection between the two unions and cooperating for the benefit of Laotian people.

Shortly after, we went on to meet the local population in the mountain area, the plateau region and around the lakes. It was a pleasant meeting and we received a warm welcome. The way of life in Laos is calm as can be seen in the amount of travelers and motorized vehicles. Most of the population lives simply in a variety of structures from stilt homes to bricked and concrete houses. All family members live under one roof and it is common that three of four generations live together in the same house. Most of the population outside the cities lives dependant on the land by growing rice, fishing and small scale commerce. Many children do not go to school and with an average of 4 years of formal education. Many children are directed to monasteries in order to obtain more education and food. Despite the scarcity of resources, it is not common to see homeless people in the streets. In the big cities there is a new vibe of western influence intertwined with a South-east Asia way of life; alongside local restaurants are exclusive high classed French cuisine. In contrast to a few carriages and "toktoks" in the rural cities, the transportation in the big cities consists of new modern vehicles imported from the Far East: Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand. Local markets exhibit mainly basic garments, art and food supplies. In the big cities these markets are filled with tourists from all over the world who can buy almost anything reasonably cheap. One of the most exciting events is the march of the monks which begins just before sunset. These monks, from different monasteries in the city, walk the streets following each other holding pots. The pots are then filled with food by city people and tourists coming to watch this special happening. This event is similar to the "Maot Chitim" (or collecting of food for the poor before Passover) in Judaism but this event happens daily. By the sides of the march sit poor children receiving a portion from the monks’ donations. The march ends with the monks dispersing to their different monasteries, and the city start its morning.

Laos is still a country heavily influenced by its neighboring countries: China, Vietnam and Thailand. At the same time it is building itself a better future. Laos is slowly marching into advancement, and to my eyes seems to need much assistance, especially in medical care. As a member of "Eyes of Zion" I visualize that our next mission will be there, assisting wherever possible, even if it is only a drop in the sea.”

Western Galilee Hospital is proud to be the home medical institution of Dr. Segel, Head of Ophthalmology, and to support our staff’s global healthcare aid initiatives.