Meet the ophthalmologist restoring vision in Fiji
Meet Dr Mundi Qalo, a charismatic and talented ophthalmologist from the Solomon Islands. Based in Fiji, he is a leading expert in small-incision cataract surgery in the Pacific Islands. He speaks about faith, his love for family and the joy of helping patients regain their sight
Dr Mundi Qalo has restored the vision of thousands of Pacific Islanders in his work for the Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. The Solomon Islander leads the charity’s surgical outreach team in the Pacific Islands where four out of five people without sight are needlessly blind. Mundi’s Fiji-based team travels to countries without access to eye care to perform more than 30 sight-restoring surgeries a day.
The bright and engaging doctor works into the night to ensure every patient who visits the temporary eye clinic gets the chance to have their vision restored through a 20-minute manual surgical procedure. Due to the charity’s focus on training local doctors and nurses and building sustainable eye care systems throughout the Pacific, fewer outreaches are needed these days. However, Mundi is kept busy supervising trainees at the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva and working at both the charity’s diabetes eye clinic (also in the capital) and its mobile eye clinic in remote areas of Fiji. Here he reflects on what his work means to him.
Sight for sore eyes
When it comes to doing cataract surgeries, it always makes us smile. Patients are regaining their sight overnight – it’s just amazing. They’ve been blind for maybe five or six years, sometimes even 10 years, and overnight they can see again. It’s like giving the patient a new chance in life.
The joy they have… the experience makes us emotional as well. That’s the satisfaction of my job. When you see patients regaining life, enjoying their sight again, it’s just amazing.
I find it very interesting and satisfying to travel around and give sight to different groups of people in the Pacific Islands. I come across different cultures and I see a lot of differences in how Pacific Islanders give importance to their faith. I see their different reactions to regaining sight.
I didn’t dream of becoming an ophthalmologist. It’s just that my country needed an ophthalmologist at the time. I was interested in doing obstetrics and gynaecology or surgery. But the country didn’t have an ophthalmologist. So I joined ophthalmology because of the availability of a scholarship to go towards further studies.
But then I didn’t regret it. I like ophthalmology and I think it’s in the plan that God has set out for me. You have your human plan but God has a different plan for you. So I take it that my coming to ophthalmology was a plan by God.
As for my spare time, I want to spend it with my kids. They are growing bigger and very soon they will leave home and I won’t see them again. I love spending time with my family because I spend most of my time outside of my family due to work. I love listening to music and watching movies with my kids. I do a bit of traditional artwork at times, too.
Walk a mile
Doctors should try and put themselves in their patients’ shoes. Then you will see what you would like for yourself. When I operate on someone, I always feel like I’m operating on my parents. If I have that feeling, I will do a better surgery. Put patients first. But most of all, I’m a Christian, so your God first, your patients and then yourself. Then everything will work out perfectly for you.
To donate or find out more, visit hollows.org.nz