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From COVID Challenges to Collective Progress: AOS-PAO 2023 Sets Sights on Global Trends and Regional Perspectives

Advancing together, the joint AOS-PAO 2023 Congress has made substantial progress, overcoming pandemic challenges and delving into global trends and regional perspectives that influence the trajectory of ophthalmic care.

The recently concluded 6th ASEAN Ophthalmology Society (AOS) Congress, held in collaboration with the Annual Congress of the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology (PAO) from October 18 to 20 in Manila, Philippines, was a memorable celebration characterized by warm camaraderie and an optimistic outlook for a better future in eye care.

The Honorable Teodoro J. Herbosa, Secretary of the Philippine Department of Health, graced the event with his keynote speech, alongside welcoming addresses delivered by PAO President Dr. Vicente Victor D. Ocampo Jr. and AOS Congress President Dr. Ruben Lim Bon Siong.

During the Plenary Session, the current Secretary General, Prof. Paisan Ruamviboonsuk, delivered the Congress’ first AOS Lecture entitled Ophthalmic Care in Southeast Asia: The Last Ten Years and the Next Ten Years, demonstrating the current landscape of ophthalmic care in the region and the future goals for its improvement.

AOS celebrates 10th anniversary

From COVID Challenges to Collective Progress: AOS-PAO 2023 Sets Sights on Global Trends and Regional Perspectives

This year’s Congress, held at the SMX Convention Center in Manila, also celebrated the 10th founding anniversary of the ASEAN Ophthalmology Society. The AOS was founded during a summit in Bangkok, Thailand, on May 18, 2013, when ophthalmology representatives from 10 countries came together to enhance collaboration and strengthen their efforts.

Delegates to the AOS-PAO Congress comprised not only representatives from member countries —Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam— but also delegates from Australia, Hong Kong, USA and South Asian countries. This event also marked the first in-person meeting for many AOS members since the COVID-19 pandemic, as the previous year’s congress had been conducted virtually in 2022.

All these factors contributed to the sense of camaraderie during the Congress as participants enjoyed a glittering get-together at the Pista Gala Fellowship Night. The Filipino word “pista” comes from the Spanish word “fiesta,” which means festive celebrations. Attendees had the opportunity to rekindle ties with one another in the spirit of regional and international collegiality, all the while enjoying unique traditional Filipino fare and lively local entertainment.

On the road forward: Key insights and lessons learned

In line with the Congress’ theme, Global Trends Through a Regional Perspective, the topics that covered all subspecialties in the field touched on new developments and trends within the region.

Some of the highlights of the AOS-PAO Congress were the Special Sessions. One in particular was a poignant discussion addressing the impact of COVID-19 on practices within the region. Representatives from the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia shared their valuable insights into their respective countries’ ophthalmologic responses and lessons learned.

Specifically, doctors from the Philippines shared insights into COVID infection-related uveitis, vaccination-associated uveitis and risks of flare-ups in uveitis patients with COVID, as well as retinal vein occlusions and optic neuropathies linked with COVID.

The session also included a panel discussion on the emerging role of artificial intelligence (AI) and telemedicine. It explored the changes brought about by these advancements in the management and surveillance of eye patients.

The second Special Session shined a spotlight on the meeting of interregional minds through presentations by the South Asian Academy of Ophthalmology. Comprising ophthalmic societies from eight member countries – namely, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bhutan and the Maldives – the session provided insights from diverse South Asian perspectives.

The regional collegiality also provided a platform conducive to open and candid discussions during the sessions. For instance, in a laser vision correction session, the panel discussed their respective countries’ experiences in discerning marketing hype from clinical reality.

Community ophthalmology

The Philippine Journal of Ophthalmology defines community ophthalmology as the “delivery of eye care involving preventive, curative, promotive and rehabilitative activities as a holistic approach.” It is a “health-management approach in preventing eye diseases, lowering eye morbidity rates and promoting eye health through active community participation at the ground level.”

During the AOS-PAO Congress, discussions focused on the relatively emergent subspecialty in the region, addressing topics such as Integrated People-Centered Eye Care and Universal Eye Healthcare (UEHC). The former session featured expert insights and ground experiences in integrated eye care from practitioners and administrators from Australia, Laos, the Philippines and Singapore. Meanwhile, practitioners and experts from Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and India shared the challenges of translating policy into action, managing ophthalmic drugs and the complexities of UEHC and HMO relationships.

Focus on ophthalmic education 

Recognizing the importance of training and development to the cultivation of best practices and growth in ophthalmology within the ASEAN region, the Congress dedicated several sessions on ophthalmic education and training. Participants from the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia shared their challenges and experiences in ophthalmology residencies. Discussions not only centered on the current state of ophthalmological training in the ASEAN region and its future but also on the use of technology in training, such as virtual reality classrooms, e-logbooks and

Reflections on lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic were also discussed in the session entitled Best Practices Learned After the Pandemic. This was part of the collective effort to press forward in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Eyes on the next generation

Young ophthalmologists were not left out of the AOS-PAO’s efforts in presenting topics tailored to the current times. These sessions for the up-and-coming ophthalmic practitioners included discussions on prospects beyond clinical practice and exploring avenues such as the corporate world, research, leadership or academia.

Additionally, a dedicated segment on soft skills was featured in the Young Ophthalmologists’ session. In the Personality Development session, participants had the opportunity to learn about “power dressing combining fashion and passion,” getting technical with technology, as well as familiarizing themselves with AI.

The event also featured eight Free Paper sessions, providing a platform to showcase a myriad of findings from Filipino ophthalmologists and their international colleagues through collaborative research efforts. The papers reflected a wealth of the latest data and learnings gleaned from several sub-disciplines in ophthalmology.

For instance, an interventional study on the Epidemic of Rhino-Orbital Cerebral Mucormycosis (ROCM) in COVID-19 Pandemic as well as a few rarely discussed diseases, such as Purtscher-like Retinopathy as a Presenting Manifestation of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and Distinguishing Characteristics of Acute Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada Disease from Acute Central Serious Chorioretinopathy Using the Zeiss Cirrus™ HD-Optical Coherence Tomography were featured, among others.

Balancing work and play

However, it wasn’t just all hard work and no play at AOS-PAO Congress 2023. Besides enjoying the famously congenial Filipino hospitality at the conference, participants also had a chance to relax after the event. Some chose to savor old Manila via a visit to Intramuros, a National Historical Landmark in the Philippines. Others enjoyed the sights and sounds of both the old and new Manila, which included going on a food tour in Binondo.

For the more adventurous participants, there was the option to venture outside of Manila to visit scenic Tagaytay and other attractions, such as the Puning Hot Spring and Sand Spa. Additionally, some delegates took on the challenge of a crater hike up Mount Pinatubo, adding an element of exploration and outdoor adventure to their overall experience.

Editor’s Note: The 6th ASEAN Ophthalmology Society Congress, in conjunction with the Annual Congress of the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology, was held from October 18 to 20 in Manila, Philippines. Reporting for this story took place during the event. A version of this article was first published in PIE magazine Issue 28.

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