40 years on – Prof Billson’s latest trip to Bangladesh

In February this year, Prof Frank Billson returned to Bangladesh for yet another trip. During his time there, he was honoured to receive a Gold medal for his long-standing contribution to eye health and education for the people of Bangladesh which spanned over more than 40 years. It was after his first visit in Bangladesh that he founded Foresight in 1978 with the goal to prevent and cure blindness and empower communities in the Asia-Pacific region. After just a few years, Foresight helped fund and build the Eye Infirmary in Chittagong.

Prof Billson teaching the Eye Infirmary’s students during the trip

Frank says the vision of Foresight has been and always will be to empower locals in every country they have worked with, to set up and run eye clinics and continue the work after the Australian medical volunteers leave. “I would insist on teaching local doctors, nurses or paramedics, even when I was operating, I would assist and help them to learn”, says Frank. This then follows some great achievements, for example “we celebrated 1.3 million cataract surgeries in 2002, working across eight hospitals in Bangladesh”.

Today the Eye Infirmary has become a Centre of Excellence in eye surgery, eye care and training, not just for Bangladesh, but for other countries in the region. Circa 1,000 patients a day walk into the hospital every day and 150 Cataract surgeries are performed each day, six days a week.  It has also provided medical and paramedical staff training for eight base eye hospitals across Bangladesh.

Prof Billson with the staff at the Eye Infirmary in Chittagong

Frank says that going back to Bangladesh this year and being invited to receive this award was exciting and a great privilege. “I was delighted to see my former students, now senior doctors, as well as meet the current students of the training facility”. The locals were also thrilled to have him back and inspired once again by his teaching as he shared some of his stories and tips to young doctors.

During the trip, Prof Billson realised that Foresight’s work in Bangladesh was not finished. “The future is full of promise but there is still such tremendous need. There are many communities where people are going blind because there is no access to good quality eye care services. Although it is a difficult time for everyone at the moment, our mission of reducing blindness remains our priority”, he says.