Canada’s student chapter of Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH), based at the University of Waterloo, organized its first trip five years ago to a remote corner of Senegal, West Africa. Since then, they strive to make annual trips to ensure a long-term commitment to the region. After missing two years during the pandemic, nine VOSH students and two supervising OD‘s recently visited rural health clinics to provide eye exams and dispense prescription glasses.
The main purpose of these missions is to provide comprehensive eye exams to the community and donate repurposed eye wear. Now, the VOSH trips have expanded to include several unique opportunities to complement eye exams.
"The region of Senegal where we are focussed has no optometric care available, so providing free glasses is highly valuable to the local population, and particularly for school children”, says Amru Abou-Zidan, president of VOSH Waterloo. “But our long-term goal is to train and equip a local provider so that our annual trips become a way to support an ongoing service to the community".
The team were able to source custom lenses for patients who need unique prescriptions through NAINA Eyewear who provided glasses frames from their eyewear line, and coordinated with HOYA Vision for lenses.
"Donated prescription glasses cannot meet the needs of all patients, so the ability to customize glasses is a welcomed new opportunity”, says Dr. Monica Bell, who joined the team as a supervising optometrist.
Continuity provides an opportunity to follow up with individual patient needs, and one of the biggest concerns that has been found in this region over the last five years is cataracts due to sun exposure. Cataracts have been seen in peoples as young as their 30’s, so VOSH has begun fundraising to pay for surgeries through Senegal’s subsidized health care system. In an effort to alleviate this concern, over 700 pairs of donated sunglasses were provided to patients this year, and patient education on the importance of sun protection is included in each exam.
Most recently, the team has begun a collaboration with Mercy Ships, who have launched a new hospital ship to serve Africa. Cataract patients seen during their last trip boarded the ship on it’s inaugural day this month in the capital city of Dakar. With Mercy Ships providing surgeries at no cost, VOSH has been able to use donated funds to cover medications and transportation costs to the capital city.
VOSH Waterloo also sent student groups to two other countries this last year in collaboration with Canadian Vision Care (CVC).
Eight students travelled to Malawi, and over 200 patients were seen a day, as the team travelled to different schools in the region. Patients primarily consisted of students and their teachers.
Eight students and one optometrist also travelled to the Philippines in collaboration with CVC’s local partners and the SPECS foundation, and joined the Eye Train, which services low-income areas of the capital city Manila. Glasses were custom-made to each patient’s prescription, and those who needed surgery or special treatment were referred to a local ophthalmologist.
Of course, VOSH trips are also about learning. Unique eye conditions are encountered that provide an invaluable opportunity for students and supervising optometrists to expand their knowledge base such as anterior uveitis, conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, corneal infections, gliomas, ocular albinism, pterygiums, retinitis pigmentosa, and uveal melanoma. Teams invariably have an opportunity to explore and learn about the amazing cultures, try local cuisine, and spend time with and getting to know the local people.
They are pleased to announce that they have confirmed upcoming trips to Senegal and the Philippines in 2023!