Visit to Vietnam fosters new educational opportunities in overcoming infant blindness

By Grace Mishler

Recently, from Nov. 15 to Dec. 13, 2022, I visited Vietnam with the purpose of engaging directly with the Retinopathy of Prematurity Vietnam (ROPVN) team and assessing the situation in the aftermath of the Covid-19 epidemic.

During my visit, I went to Children’s Hospital 1, where ROPVN has a full-time social worker in the newly created Department of Ophthalmology. I also met with the French Hospital Charity Foundation, which supports funding for stage 4A and 4B surgeries for infants of low-income families, as well as NGOs with a history of successful partnerships. Additionally, I introduced the ROPVN team to a blind leader named Tran Ba Thien and discussed potential collaborations to develop a course curriculum syllabus for Catholic priests, particularly those located in remote villages.

One week after I arrived back in the United States, an Eye Unit social worker shared a message that an infant from Di Linh District, Lam Dong Province, had come to Children’s Hospital 1 and was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity, resulting in blindness. The baby was born at home at 28 weeks and was transferred to a general hospital a week later due to respiratory failure, weighing only 1,100 grams. The baby had to stay in the hospital for two months to receive oxygen therapy and was not examined for eye problems after discharge. At four months old, the baby was taken by its mother for a pulmonary check-up, and eye issues were discovered that required examination at Ho Chi Minh City’s Children’s Hospital 1. The parents couldn’t afford the travel, but sought out a Catholic nun who provided the funds for transportation. It wasn’t until they came to the Eye Unit that they learned about the ROPVN social work support services.

Linking the dots

During my recent visit to Vietnam, doctors shared how the momentum of early intervention for detecting retinopathy of prematurity is suffering, and the need to revitalize initiatives to provide education. A field trip to Di Linh District is very necessary to communicate information about the disease and to educate the community about the importance of early screening and treatment to prevent blindness in premature infants. Di Linh is 150 kilometers away from Ho Chi Minh City, home to 14 ethnic minority groups who often live on the margins of society and have limited access to social and healthcare services.

Discussing their plans for a field trip to Di Linh are the Retinopathy of Prematurity Vietnam (ROPVN) team of Thanh Doan, ROPVN project manager; Nhi Tran, Eye Unit social worker; and Tran Ba Thien, former director of Sao Mai Blind Computer Center. Photo courtesy of Grace Mishler
During her visit to Vietnam in late 2022, Grace Mishler presented a PowerPoint on retinal pathology and prematurity medical social work support services at a symposium at the newly constructed Department of Ophthalmology in Ho Chi Minh City’s Children’s Hospital 1. More than 100 medical doctors and staff attended. Photo by Thanh Doan

Please pray… For the work of the Retinopathy of Prematurity Vietnam (ROPVN) team.

As ROPVN Volunteer Social Work advisor, I asked the ROPVN team to link up with Tran Ba Thien, a lived expert on blindness, to receive information about blind associations located near Di Linh as well as issues related to parents’ access to education and blind schools. That meeting happened just a few weeks ago.

The team is now working out the details about how to maximize a trip to Di Linh, with an estimated expense of $600. Involved in the trip will be Thanh Doan, ROPVN project manager; Nhi Tran, Eye Unit social worker; and Tran Ba Thien, former director of Sao Mai Blind Computer Center.

The ROPVN team receives funds from the Murray Foundation, but this trip is not included in the planned budget. Also, we expect the need for a follow-up trip to assess community events in promoting early interventions through education and awareness, and to visit 10 families who we anticipate will need help in education with blindness for their children.

The team and I welcome others’ participation in funding this trip in honor of Ted Studebaker, a Brethren peacemaker who was martyred during the Vietnam War. To give in support of this project, make a check out to “Church of the Brethren,” in the memo line write “Vietnam Eye Project,” and mail to: Church of the Brethren, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120. Online donations are received at, place “Vietnam Eye Project” in the additional notes field.

For questions, call Grace Mishler at 574-312-9352

— Grace Mishler, ACSW, formerly worked in Vietnam for the Church of the Brethren’s Global Mission program. She continues to do volunteer advocacy and consultation for the ROPVN social work team, and continues to supervise the ROPVN medical social work support service continuum of care for 80 low-income families. The goal is early intervention to prevent unnecessary blindness for infants diagnosed with retinal pathology prematurity.


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