Most people would agree that things happen for a reason, and it was through a chance meeting with an enthusiastic Dublin based optometrist Valerie, that we became involved with Eye Care Zambia.
Our journey to Zambia began a long time before we stepped onto the plane. We hosted various fund raising events, organised equipment and sterilised, scanned, labelled and packed 100s of donated glasses and frames.
The team was composed of 4 screeners, 2 dispensing opticians and 3 optometrists, all with different skill groups, but all with a special interest in children’s vision.
Having negotiated our way through various security points, carrying different suspicious looking items of valuable optical equipment, we arrived safely in Lusaka the capital.
For our time in Zambia we were based one hour south of Lusaka, at a community school and orphanage. As we travelled from the airport, it wasn’t until the tarmac ran out that reality hit.
Most of the children who attend the school are from an area called the Linda Compound, an extremely poor area comprising of make shift shelters and mud huts. Visiting the compound was a heart breaking experience, witnessing the cold reality of true poverty.
For the children of the Linda Compound there is little hope that they could ever afford or gain access to eye care, and it was for these children we had travelled thousands of miles.
A typical day began at 6am, with little or no electricity or water, there was no caffeine kick start and a cold shower was the order of the day.
Each day we saw ~100 children, all of whom were screened, performing a number of previously agreed screening tests and pass/fail criteria applied. Those who failed the screening were referred to one of the three optometrists and a full eye examination was conducted.
Thanks to £10,000s worth of equipment that had been kindly lent to us from various optical companies, the eye examination performed was to the same standard as that performed within our own practices.
Those children who needed glasses were referred to one of the dispensing opticians, to choose the best glasses for each child, matching the prescription from the selection of glasses we had brought with us.
For those whose prescription could not be matched, a frame was selected and taken back to be glazed in our lab, before returning to Zambia.
Thankfully we had established a relationship with an ophthalmologist in Lusaka, so that any children who needed to be referred for further investigation or treatment could be seen, and the costs were covered.
Most of the children we saw were HIV positive, however most were unaware of their condition. During our time we saw a lot of children who had suffered eye injuries due to trauma and burns from open fires.
In total we saw ~600 children, 200 of whom needed and were dispensed glasses.
This is the first and only eye examination these children may ever have and there are thousands more like them.
Plans are already in place for the future. Thanks to an extremely generous donation from a patient, we are exploring the possibility of equipping an examination room based in the Linda compound.
Our trip to Zambia was an amazing experience, it was hard work and challenging, but we had lots of fun and laughter. We met warm, kind people who appreciated everything we did to help them.
We would like to thank everyone for their kind donations and support before and during our time away and we would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to serve on an Eye Care team to GO!