It was a Thai that mapped the eye
It is not widely known that a chart used in teaching basic ophthalmology was drawn up by Thailand's first retinal specialist, Dr Uthai Rutnin, founder of Rutnin Eye Hospital.
The hospital now provides specialist eye treatment for patients not only from East Asia but also from the Middle East and Europe.
Forty years ago the Appearance of the Normal Fundus Chart was sketched when Dr Uthai won a scholarship from the Retina Foundation at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
He conducted research on hundreds of patients to ensure that details of the structure of the human eye were accurate. His assistants then drew the chart from his research.
From a small clinic in 1964, Rutnin expanded into a hospital and has formed a joint venture with a Cambodian ophthalmologist, who trained at the hospital, to open the Meng Rutnin eye clinic in Phnom Penh.
Returning to Bangkok in 1964, Dr Uthai founded the Ophthalmology Department at Mahidol University's Ramathibodi Teaching Hospital, one of Thailand's leading medical schools.
The hospital was the country's first private hospital specialising in ophthalmology, the medical and surgical care of the eyes.
The rising number of patients prompted the doctor to upgrade the clinic to a hospital while still providing premium care.
Rutnin is the country's only specialist integrated eye service and treatment hospital. Ranging from common eye diseases, to a special clinic and treatment of children's eye diseases with laser surgery.
The hospital is also a school for ophthalmologists developing new treatments.
Dr Uthai died in 1992, leaving his son Dr Sanpatna Rutnin, who followed in his father's footsteps as an ophthalmologist, and his wife Sirithorn to take over the running of the hospital.
Sirithorn said Thailand faced a shortage of ophthalmologists. Thailand has only 600 ophthalmologists to care for a population of more than 60 million, compared with 130 million people in Japan who are served by 13,000 ophthalmologists.
"The shortage means that some provinces in Thailand have only one ophthalmologist to serve 200,000 people. This has led to many people facing blindness unnecessarily," she said.
In 2001 the hospital invested Bt200 million in a new building, which has the latest technology to treat the rising number of patients and train ophthalmologists. It was completed in 2003.
"We invested the money to ensure the best treatment not for commercial purposes, because most of our patients are Thais. We didn't aim at attracting more foreign patients," Sirithorn said. Adding that the hospital saw an average of 300 patients per day, 80 per cent of them Thai.
However, foreigners make up a growing number the hospital's patients.
Sirithorn added that the hospital wanted to improve its management and services and increase the number of ophthalmologists before targeting overseas patients.
The hospital tries to keep patient queues short to reduce waiting time. Hospital appointments are already fully booked for the next two to three weeks.
"We have to clear our existing debt before looking at new expansion. We want patients without an appointment not to have to complain about waiting a long time." she said.
We do not have any branches, only the joint venture in Cambodia, she added.
The hospital has also formed a joint venture with the Canada-based Gimbel Eye Centre to help with Rutnin's laser refractive surgery.