“They say that the eyes are the window to the soul and I never truly understood it until the day I met a blind farmer when I was working in a klinik kesihatan,” ophthalmology resident Dr. Lindfay Laura Lau begins. Looking back, she is certain that the man had worked his fingers to the bones throughout his younger years but as he creeps into his golden age now, this unfortunate old timer will never again be able to enjoy the surrounding beauty that the world has to offer.
Distraught as it may be, the trigger was pulled when Lindfay found out that his loss of sight was caused by a dense cataract; a condition that was very preventable and can be treated by undergoing a half-hour procedure. “I believe this was the shove I needed to tread the path in ophthalmology,” she says.
In 2014, Lindfay decided to participate in the National Eye Survey (NES) 2. “I’m an urban girl and for me to dwell in the rural areas of Sabah was an eye-opener to say the least,” she informs. During her two-month stay, she had learnt to understand their living condition and the reason behind their lack of awareness in basic healthcare. But more importantly, “the people have shown me that you don’t need money to be happy,” she says.
When the result of the NES 2 was released, Lindfay was astounded to know that the prevalence of blindness in both eyes due to cataract in Sabah is the highest in Malaysia. “It was found that 216,000 Malaysians became blind because of the delays in cataract surgery and the condition has also caused 272,000 others to be visually impaired,” she explains, “and based on the NES 2 population, blindness due to cataract is 58 per cent in Malaysia and in Sabah, it is the highest at 66 per cent. And for the statistics of the main cause of low vision due to cataract, Sabah remains the highest as well at 90 per cent!”
Even today, the inaccessibility to the healthcare system remains a major obstacle for those who live in remote areas. “The problems with these areas are often associated with poverty, communication, infrastructure and public facilities. As most of them are in agriculture, their working environment affects the incidence of diseases and health issues,” she sighs, further revealing that cataract surgical coverage in Sabah is the lowest compared to other zones in the country.
“And we know cataract is preventable and treatable,” she laments, “which is why the Ministry of Health has come up with a ‘cataract-free zone project 2015-2019’ in hopes of eliminating blindness in Malaysia by 2020.” To name a few, these efforts include Klinik Katarak 1 Malaysia (KK1M), the Cataract Finder programme, KK1M mobile, community screening/awareness and enhancement of output by Inter-hospital Cataract Care Pathway Standardisation.
As the youngest daughter of Datuk Lau Kok Sing, Lindfay deeply appreciates the opportunities her father has provided, “and I’m here because of him.” Additionally, for someone who had the privilege to study abroad since her adolescence, the young patriot knows where her heart truly belongs. “Malaysia is my home and I have high, or perhaps quite idealistic, hopes for my country. The only way to create changes is to be physically here and as long as the younger generation continues to have migration in mind, Malaysia will never be what it can be.”