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Sector shines bright in Queen’s Birthday Honours

Two ophthalmologists, an optometrist and a theatre nurse are among 933 Australians to feature on the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours list in recognition of their service to eyecare causes here and abroad.

RANZCO Fellows Dr Harold Spiro and Dr Arthur Briner, both from Queensland, were each awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the General Division.

Dr William Trinh, from Mosman, New South Wales, became an OAM recipient for service to international humanitarian medical programs and optometry.

Meanwhile, theatre nurse Mrs Alison Plain, from the Victorian suburb of North Balwyn, was recognised for her service to the international community of Indonesia through eye health programs.

For more than 14 years, Plain has been involved with the Sumba Eye Program. It was established by optometrists Mr Peter Lewis and Mr Peter Stewart, together with ophthalmologist Dr Mark Ellis, in 2007 to deliver eyecare to people in Sumba, an Eastern Indonesia island, and to build the capacity of the local and regional health staff.

She now joins the program’s founders on the role call of Queen’s Birthday Honours and was “completely overwhelmed” by the recognition.

Theatre nurse Alison Plain was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division.

“I’ve been a theatre nurse for 40 years and met Mark Ellis in theatre in the early 1990s. Mark was volunteering in East Timor and invited me to join his team,” she said.

Plain volunteered with Ellis and his team in East Timor for a few years, and then to Sumba for one week every year since, with the exception of this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“It’s a third-world, so it can be challenging. You have to be resourceful and learn to adapt,” she said. “It’s amazing to be able to give sight to the people of Sumba, and a huge honour to be part of a team to help people.”

Humanitarian aid 

Trinh, a Sydney optometrist who was recognised for his contributions international humanitarian medical programs and to optometry, is the chairman of Australian Health Humanitarian Aid (AHHA). The Sydney-based charity was established in 2003 and boasts more than 300 volunteers across Australia and New Zealand, including more than 40 ophthalmologists, 60 optometrists, 40 GPs, 30 pharmacists, 50 nurses, 10 anaesthetists and 50 dentists.

Through its aid program, AHHA has performed more than 8,000 cataract surgeries. Among its most distinguish projects is an eye program providing cataract, other ophthalmic surgery, prescription spectacles and training to local medical students, doctors, and nurses in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Dr William Trinh also works full-time at his private practice Wills Eyecare which was established in 1989.

It also has dental and water filter projects in both countries, as well as an education program for underprivileged school students.

During COVID-19, AHHA has provided 10,000 masks, 4,000 face shields, 300 laser thermometers, 1,000 gloves, 5,000 litres of hand sanitiser to Australian hospitals and institutions.

“I joined AHHA in 2004 as an optometrist leader who looked after the pre and post eye surgery. I became AHHA treasurer in 2005 until 2015 to become AHHA chairman and current,” Trinh said.

Day-to-day, Trinh is a full-time optometrist at his private practice Wills Eyecare, established since 1989. Since 2004 he has been a visiting lecturer and clinical instructor at the School of Optometry and Vision Science at UNSW. His practice is a formal clinical rotation for final-year UNSW optometry students and other schools.

“I am surprised and very honoured to receive the order of Australia OAM. I feel the award is the recognition of AHHA’s wonderful charity work, its hardworking, compassionate volunteers, and its generous supporters who care and believe in making a difference,” he said.


Meanwhile, Spiro was recognised for service to paediatric ophthalmology, which included a 27-year stint as senior ophthalmologist at Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service from 1987-2014. He also established the first paediatric Hospital Ethics Committee in 1967.

Recognised for his service to the Jewish community and ophthalmology, Briner was most recently a volunteer doctor, consultant and locum with the Indigenous diabetes, eye and health (IDEAS) van for three years (2014-2017).

The IDEAS Van is a mobile eye health clinic that screens, treats and helps prevent blindness due to diabetes.

Prior, he was a visiting consultant at both Princess Alexandra Hospital and Greenslopes and St Andrew’s Private Hospitals for 28 years, from 1974-2002.

Briner has also served as honorary secretary, and chairman, of RANZCO’s Queensland Branch from 1984-1985 and 1985-1986, respectively, and is a past clinical teacher and senior lecturer at University of Queensland.

He has also been extensively involved with the British Hebrew Congregation at The Brisbane Synagogue, including as a Board member for 48 years, from 1970-2018, including terms as president and vice president.

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