Unique Experience in China:
Miguel Angel Vázquez Membrillo MD PhD

20 August 2020

Miguel Angel Vázquez Membrillo, Mexican ophthalmologist with subspecialty in retina and vitreous, shares his experience in the realization of his postdoctoral project (2015-2016) in rural communities in southern China


Doing what you love is a unique experience. I had the privilege of traveling to Guangzhou, China to join the team of Dr. Nathan Congdon, MD, PHD, who is a professor of Preventive Ophthalmology at Zhongshan University Eye Hospital (ZOC), Queens University in Belfast and a leading researcher in blindness prevention in the region and whose work has been reported by the Wall Street Journal and National Television of China among others.

With the support of the Instituto Mexicano de Oftalmología I.A.P., ORBIS and the Doctorate Program of Biomedical Sciences of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México I did my postdoctoral stay, during a year and a half, at the Zhongshan University Eye Hospital (ZOC), incorporated to the Sun Yat-Sen University, working with Dr. Congdon and his team.   The ZOC is the largest ophthalmic hospital in China, with all the high specialties within ophthalmology, receives an annual volume of ophthalmic consultations of close to one million patients and performs about 100 thousand ophthalmic surgeries annually.

My project consisted of obtaining data related to the detection, treatment and monitoring of diabetic retinopathy (DR) and diabetic macular edema (DME) together with doctors in rural China in southern Canton, as well as the implementation of research projects in different NGOs. The data was collected with two main objectives in mind:

  1. Obtain the economic resources for the purchase of equipment that would remain in the region benefiting DR patients in the different communities
  2. Obtaining data will allow the generation of original scientific knowledge to continue within the line of research of the DR in the area of telemedicine.

This project was carried out in 11 different rural communities within the Guangdong province in southern China, communities in Vietnam and a rotation by the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI). 

I left three to four times a week on two to 9-hour trips to rural communities, carrying a fundus camera with fluorangiography capability, an OCT and an indirect ophthalmoscope.  The project and the experience obtained are currently being applied in the Guangdong Province in China, in communities around Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam as well as in the care of our communities in the Bajio area in Mexico and has given rise to several scientific publications in indexed journals. When I was not in the project, I tried to incorporate myself into the life of the place by studying Mandarin or by doing the local activities, because I lived near what used to be Bruce Lee’s city and, of course, taking some Kung Fu classes.

China’s growth and progress in many areas is amazing and at the same time diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity are on the rise. Eleven percent of the adult population has diabetes, and although their diet could be considered balanced, the glycemic index of rice is high. In addition, the westernization of the diet and the aging of the population due to the one-child policy that was implemented a few years ago.

Our own health system suffers from similar problems: inequity in care, chronic diseases and rising prices. Back in Mexico, I feel fortunate and grateful to have experienced different systems of work, and a unique set of problems and solutions.


Miguel Angel Vázquez Membrillo, MD, PhD
Retina & Vitreous Service
Instituto Mexicano de Oftalmología I.A.P.

Figure 1. Dr. Vazquez Membrillo and two other ZOC members analyzing data from patients with diabetic retinopathy– Shaoguan, Guangdong Province, China.

Figure 3. Retina and ZOC Epidemiology Congress from left to right: Dr. Ching-Yu Cheng, Dr. Noemi Lois, Dr. Margaret M. DeAngelis, Dr. Robert P. Murphy, Dr. Miguel Vazquez Membrillo, Dr. Timothy W. Olsen, Dr. Emily Y. Chew, China. Guangzhou, China.

Figure 2. Rural communities – Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province, China

Figure 4.  ZOC members in training and research campaigns with local ophthalmologists – Chenghai, Guangdong Province, China.