International Women's Day: Dr. Shamsiya Murat is transforming eye care in Mongolia

To mark International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating some of the incredible women in the Orbis family whose expertise and dedication is helping the next generation of women and girls reach their potential. This is Dr. Shamsiya Murat, a leading pediatric opthalmologist who is helping more children see clearly in Mongolia.

Dr. Murat has a long history of training with Orbis as a hands-on surgeon, both on multiple Flying Eye Hospital programs and in hospitals in the capital city Ulaanbaatar over the last two decades.

Dr  Shamsiya Murat Bugbee completed an Orbis-sponsored fellowship in India

Orbis trainee Dr. Shamsiya Murat is dedicated to fighting blindness in Mongolia

She was 21 years old, taking on her fourth-year as a medical student and watching a presentation on closed-angled glaucoma when she was first inspired to jump into the field and lead a life dedicated to fighting blindness.

Fast forward many years later and Dr. Murat performed cataracts surgery on the youngest person ever to receive this treatment in Mongolia at only 42 days old. If the little Marla hadn't have received this surgery, she wouldn't be able to see today.

Being so dedicated to fighting blindness and improving the quality of eye care systems in her country is something Dr. Murat can be extremely proud of.

Marla gets life-changing surgery, thanks to Dr. Murat

Developing Her Skills and Expertise

Dr. Murat took her first Orbis Flying Eye Hospital training in a wet lab working with simulated eyes when she was just a young second year resident in 2001. 13 years on, in 2014, she got involved in hands-on cataract training. At the time, she was working in pediatrics and comprehensive ophthalmology, but not fully specialized yet.

The foundation of her cataract training came from Orbis and our very own Volunteer Faculty Dr. Daniel Neely - operating on 12 cases under his supervision. A surgery she had never done before, let alone on pediatric patients. She's still so grateful for all the things she learned from him in every step of cataract surgery, including how to aspirate the lens and how to put an implant.

Then in 2017, Dr. Shamsiya completed a 15-month Orbis-sponsored fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology at LV Prasad Eye Institute in India honing in her skills in pediatric cataract, strabismus and general ophthalmology. During this once-in-a-lifetime training far away from home and her family, she focused on pediatric retinas, especially Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) screening and ROP laser.

With the new skills and knowledge gained during her fellowship she has been able to transform the pediatric eye care services in her department at the National Center for Maternal and Child Health (NCMCH) back at home in Ulaanbaatar.

In 2018, Dr. Murat participated in our Flying Eye Hospital project again under the expert guidance of Volunteer Dr. Mary O'Hara. Together, they screened more than 40 complex cases of strabismus. She operated on five patients and learned many techniques, for example, how to put sutures in the muscle.

Image gallery: Training with Orbis

Fighting Blindness Back at Home in Mongolia

Mongolia has one of the lowest cataract surgical rates in Asia — 1,200 per million people each year. Currently, 90% of all cataract surgeries are performed in the capital city, as only 6 provinces out of 21 have the capacity to conduct cataract surgery.

When we asked Dr. Murat about the state of eye health in the country, she said: "We often see congenital cataract cases where a family of a few generations show up with cataracts — the very young up to the very old."

She added: "I’ve been doing this since 1999, so around 20 years. In Mongolia we have some equipment problems. Equipment supplement problems, also training is very low. So thanks to Orbis training, we can take on these kinds of patients with lower risk. Also many times it’s an uphill climb just to convince the parents of the child. They are afraid of surgery, they're just avoiding it.

"We have a deficiency of pediatric ophthalmologists in Mongolia. The ratio of children in need of significant eye care and pediatric ophthalmologists is out of balance. So I think we need to teach and train more pediatricians — teach them emergency signals of children's eye issues."

Dr. Murat saved the vision of baby Marla after performing cataracts surgery when she was 42 days old in Mongolia

Dr. Murat saved the vision of baby Marla after performing cataracts surgery when she was 42 days old

Speaking about changing the lives of children in Mongolia through eye care, she told us: "It's a very important thing. If the baby has a visual disability, they are not developing physically and mentally — it’s just a ‘delayed everything’ in their lives. The glasses are very important to children for development. You have to explain this to parents all of the time. You must emphasize over and over. Parents often think, “OK cataract surgery, we’re done, everything's fine.” But it's not like that. We always have to explain that its just the beginning. You as the parent must be invested in the follow-up exams for the child. Rehabilitate. If parents follow instructions of course it will be better for the future of the child."

Finally, she said: "Blindness of course it's a very sad thing. For a child, their whole life is ahead of them. So if the child goes incurably blind, it’s just unimaginable. But we must remember that blindness is not the end of life. We have to be able to guide blind children on how they can live their lives, how to communicate."

Thank you Dr. Murat for your dedication, skills, expertise and compassion - you're an inspiration to us all!

Meet more of the women who are transforming eye care around the world this International Women's Day.

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