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Filipino medical specialists named International Eye Health Heroes

Filipino International Eye Health Heroes
2021 Eye Health Heroes: Lizzie Anne C. Aquino, Dr. Jennifer Lyn G. Viñola, and Dr. Recivall Salongcay. Photos from IAPB

Three Filipino medical specialists have been named among this year’s Eye Health Heroes of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).

Science researcher Lizzie Anne C. Aquino, medical school faculty Dr. Jennifer Lyn G. Viñola, and retina specialist Dr. Recivall Salongcay were named award recipients in the 2021 edition of the Eye Health Heroes.

The IAPB awards recognized the three winners who hail from the Philippines’ eye health sector for working to improve people’s lives in the country and around the world.

The awards program honored change-makers, innovators, and future leaders from across all areas and backgrounds in eye health in a video announcement on December 1.

Here are the inspiring stories of the Filipino winners in the 2021 Eye Health Hero Awards:

Lizzie Anne C. Aquino

Lizzie Anne Aquino was honored in the Change-maker category for being “deeply committed to her work” and showing strong commitment and enthusiasm despite being new to her field.

The 23-year old graduated with a degree in Biology and worked as a Science Research Specialist in the Philippine Eye Research Institute (PERI), the center of eye research in the Philippines, right after her graduation.

In preparation for her work in the eye health sector, she obtained the Certificate of Higher Education in Diabetic Retinopathy Screening and Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) in Digital Surveillance from the Gloucestershire Retinal Education Group.

“She is also adept and highly flexible in the use of handheld fundus cameras, a result of months of training and a year of doing validation studies in preparation for the diabetic retinopathy screening in remote communities in the Philippines,” the IAPB said about Aquino.

Aquino worked with fellow Filipino Eye Health Hero Dr. Recivall Salongcay and researchers from the Philippine Eye Research Institute who are part of the UK-Philippines Remote Retinal Evaluation Collaboration in Health: Diabetic Retinopathy or REACH-DR, a project jointly funded by the Newton Fund and the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD).

The Filipina researcher was part of the team that seeks to establish a local Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Programme in the country which will help in the timely diagnosis of eyes at risk for diabetes-related blindness and visual loss.

Among Aquino’s accomplishments cited by the IAPB include her contribution to the first successful use of a validated artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm in the clinical setting for ophthalmology in the Philippines.

“Working in this field is an eye-opener which helped me realize the huge demand for cost-efficient and accessible healthcare especially in my country, the Philippines,” Lizzie Anne Aquino told the IAPB.

“Through the guidance and leadership of Dr. Paolo Silva and partnerships with likeminded collaborators, I strongly believe that providing eye healthcare especially to the underserved population and preventing vision loss due to diabetes are highly achievable!”

Dr. Recivall Salongcay
Future Leader

Dr. Recivall Salongcay is an ophthalmologist, retina specialist, and vision researcher. He completed his residency training in ophthalmology and clinical fellowship in vitreoretinal diseases and surgery at The Medical City Eye and Vision Institute in Metro Manila, the Philippines where he served as Chief Resident and Chief Fellow.

Currently, Dr. Recivall is a researcher at the Philippine Eye Research Institute (PERI) where his work focuses on the application of teleophthalmology principles and novel technologies in diabetic eye screening. The REACH-DR Project aims to establish the framework for a national diabetic eye screening programme (DESP) in the Philippines using mobile imaging devices and with appropriately trained personnel (photographers and image graders).

The project has the potential to influence diabetic eye disease screening and surveillance in low-middle income countries, especially in remote underserved areas.

For his research work, Dr. Recivall was awarded the ARVO (Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology) Developing Country Eye Researcher Fellowship (2020/2021) and the EASDec (European Association for the Study of Diabetic Eye Complications) Award-winning Abstract for Young Scientist (2021).

Prior to pursuing ophthalmology, Recivall completed a Master’s degree in Public Management (Health Systems Development) which he obtained while working as a rural health physician in a remote area under the Philippine Department of Health’s Doctors to the Barrios (communities) programme.

“Because of this mixed background in ophthalmology and public health, Recivall’s career goals are anchored on avoidable blindness prevention through local and national eye services that utilise evidence-based, cost- and time-efficient strategies,” the IAPB announcement said.

“I believe that the impact ophthalmologists make to patients’ quality of life is unmatched in other fields of medicine, and through the years I have realized that it is with quality ophthalmic research that I can cast a wider net and reach a broader population of people needing eyecare,” Dr. Recivall Salongcay said.

“Through my current role, I was able to build linkages and collaborations across various fields. I am really grateful for the opportunity to work on the REACH-DR Project as I know that it will make a lasting impact on the lives of people with diabetic eye disease in the Philippines.”

Dr. Jennifer Lyn G. Viñola
Future Leader

Dr. Viñola is a graduate and lecturer at Manila Central University and the faculty adviser of VOSH/International Student chapter (SVOSH-MCU).

“Jennifer thrives for excellency and besides being a top-quality clinician, her attitude to collaboration, networking, sharing and supporting students does not go unnoticed,” the IAPB said about Dr. Viñola.

Dr. Viñola was recognized in the Future Leader category for engaging her students in activities that can help them access knowledge, support their skills, and engage with other students across the world. She won the Best in Community Academic Achievement Award in 2014 for her community service.

Dr. Viñola has served communities that lacked the most basic eye health care in the Philippines. She is currently enrolled in Master of Arts in Education Major in Administration and Supervision at the Manila Central University and is also a fellow candidate of Integrated Philippines Association of Optometrists Low Vision Society.

“Since I was in College, I have been passionate about participating in community outreach programs. Unfortunately, many Filipinos lack knowledge of basic eye care and impairments that are either avoidable or amenable to cost effective interventions,” Dr. Viñola said.

“As a lecturer and adviser of SVOSH-MCU, my goal is to inspire our students to go beyond what is seen by the naked eye. It is not only about helping others see better at one instance, but the impact and difference their work would make in the lives of people they encounter and on their own,” Dr. Viñola continued.

“A ‘Salamat’ (‘Thank You’) from our patients makes a difference in our lives and motivates us to continue improving. I would like all students to experience that uplifting feeling and sense of accomplishment that helping others give.”

The Eye Health Heroes 2021 program recognizes and celebrates young and upcoming frontline staff, volunteers, support staff, and more within the eye health sector.

Filipino health champions include Grammy award-winning Filipino-American musician Apl.de.Ap of Black Eyed Peas who has been supporting the campaign to end infant blindness in the Philippines and around the world, and Filipino frontliner Dan Lester Dabon, named a Top 100 Healthcare Leader by the International Forum on Advancements in Healthcare (IFAH).

SEND CONGRATULATIONS in the comments below to this year’s Filipino winners who have been named among this year’s Eye Health Heroes of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB).

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Margo Hannah De Guzman Quadra
Margo Hannah De Guzman Quadra
Margo is a voracious reader - some might even say she reads too much for her own good. She majored in BS Psychology and hopes to become a forensic psychologist one day. She’s also an aspiring writer, mental health advocate, and a staunch believer of equality.

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