What is the Los Andes Ophthalmological Foundation that you run?
It is an institution that provides ophthalmological care to people with little economic means, making the best professionals and the best facilities available to them. We have a venue of 7,000 sqm, equipped with 7 operating theatres, where we operate on 7,000 patients a year, half of them with no financial means.
How is the project financed?
It is a private initiative that is financed by the work of doctors (we have some 40 ophthalmologists). At the outset, when we founded the institution, we had to ask other organisations to endorse us, so as to be able to carry out our work. At present, our organisation is self-financed, since the private part finances the charitable part; for each private patient we operate on, we treat another patient, in equal conditions, with no financial means.
Do all of the doctors contribute?
Every doctor is "committed" to devote at least one day per week to the patients with no financial means, both in their surgeries and consultation rooms. In fact, we have quite a lot of demand for doctors now who want to join in the system. They already take on this social responsibility at the medical schools, which we channel very well into our institution.
How do you choose the patients with no financial means?
We are in touch with the State, which refers patients to us with no financial means or with very complicated diagnoses. From the Foundation, we check whether these patients meet the requirements necessary to be operated on.
This is quite an exceptional initiative … Indeed, I believe this is an original circumstance, even in Chile. I reckon that this model should be passed on to the countries in which there is greater economic inequality.
How is access to eye care in your country?
Although Chilean economy is very stable and has firm foundations, there are actually many economic inequalities among the population. However, fortunately, Chile’s Health Service has improved considerably thanks to the public policies promoted by the different governments. There is great concern about improving the health system. Some plans known as "Auge" have been put forward in recent years which guarantee access to healthcare on equal terms and within periods established in advance. Each patient is treated depending on the urgency of the case. In this way, someone who has to have a cataract operated on will wait six months at most, while a patient who has to be operated on for a detached retina will wait for a week at most.
In addition to a better access to the Health Service, there are many public policies for improving the quality of healthcare, which could explain that Chile has one of the lowest infant mortality rates.
What is your relationship with IMO?
I came to Barcelona in the 70s, where I worked as an associate in the Ophthalmology Department of the Vall d’Hebron Hospital. There I met two young ophthalmologists who came from Bilbao: Gonzalo and Borja Corcóstegui. Since then, we have maintained a professional relationship and a very sound friendship. While we are on the other side of the "pond", thanks to the new technologies we very feel close. This has led us to sign an agreement with IMO to exchange clinical sessions and medical information. We are particularly interested in the whole part of training interns or residents who may come to IMO, an exceptional centre, with a high level of technological and human development, which has also taken an impressive step forward with its new headquarters, incorporating the latest advance so as to guarantee the highest level of patient care.