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June 29, 2010

SUNY Optometry Opens Low Vision Center with Chinese Hospital

President Qu Jia of Wenzhou Medical College accepts gift of artwork from Dr. David A. Heath,
President of the SUNY College of Optometry.

David A. Heath, President of the SUNY College of Optometry, attended the official opening of the Center of Excellence in Low Vision and Vision Rehabilitation at the Eye Hospital of Wenzhou Medical College in Wenzhou, China.  The Center is a unique, cooperative project between Wenzhou Medical College and the SUNY College of Optometry made possible with generous support from the Lavelle Fund for the Blind in New York City. The hospital is affiliated with Wenzhou Medical College's School of Optometry and Ophthalmology. 

According to Dr. Heath, by the third year of the project, a total of 10,000 visually impaired patients per year, ranging in age from children to the elderly, will be served at the Wenzhou facility.  During the course of the project, eye care professionals and paraprofessionals from numerous locations throughout China, will be trained to provide a wide range of services to the visually impaired.  It is expected that 200 optometrists and ophthalmologists and 1,000 paraprofessionals (including nurses, rehabilitation therapists, etc) will be trained.

The new Center of Excellence at Wenzhou is slated to become a model for the establishment of similar centers in other cities in China.  It will also provide educational programs for doctors and for ancillary personnel in the proper referral for vision rehabilitation services, procedures for caring for the visually impaired and for working with patients and their families to enhance function and the quality of life.  Supportive services are to be offered in areas such as the use of low vision devices, activities of daily living and psychological adjustment to visual disability.

An estimated 17 million individuals in China have low vision. With a dearth of eye and vision care professionals in the region providing quality care for the visually impaired, the Center of Excellence in Low Vision and Vision Rehabilitation will have a significant impact on the quality of life for thousands of Chinese.

Dr. Heath and Dr. Michael Heiberger, who directs the project for SUNY, were joined by  Andrew Fisher, Executive Director of the Lavelle Fund, and the hospital's senior administrative staff including President Qu Jia, Vice President Chen Xiaoming, Vice President and  Dean of the School of Optometry and Ophthalmology, Dr. Lu Fan and Eye Hospital Executive Director Dr. Wang Qinmei.  Also present were representatives of the City of Wenzhou and of the Chinese Central Government in Beijing as well as prominent individuals from the ophthalmic supplier community.

Yang jinhui, of the Beijing government's China Disabilities Board, spoke at a symposium following the opening ceremony.  He indicated a renewed interest on the part of China in making available low vision and rehabilitative services to the visually impaired in China.  Mr. Yang acknowledged that, in too many cases, low vision devices given to patients were not used and eventually discarded because there was not appropriate training in when or how to use the devices.  He also announced that China's newest five-year plan, its 12th since the founding of the Peoples' Republic, includes language concerning the provision of low vision and vision rehabilitation services.