Waterloo’s Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH) chapter completes its first clinic trip abroad

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A trip report from optometry student Team Leader, Morgan Jackson

Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH) has played an important role with students at the School of Optometry & Vision Science over the years. Many of us have traveled abroad with the student division (sVOSH) to provide optometric services in remote regions of the world where there is little or no access to eye care. However, we have only recently formed our own Waterloo Canadian student chapter. This year, the majority of our second-year class travelled to South and Central America, Europe, and Africa. We also introduced our first independently organized trip to Senegal, West Africa.

Dr. Neil Paterson completes an eye exam during the clinics

Our team worked with two health posts in the South-eastern province of the country. In Bandafassi, we saw approximately 255 patients over the course of 3 days of clinic, and in Ethiolo, just under 500. Ethiolo was quite literally the end of the gravel road leading into the Guinea mountains, so we had patients arrive on foot, bicycle, or motorcycle. Because we had a slower flow of patients than most VOSH clinics, we were able to really take our time with the patients, getting to know each person and provide them with the best care we could offer. Our two OD supervisors/volunteers, Drs. Shea Colpitts and Neil Paterson, were the best mentors we could have asked for. They pushed us to use our clinical skills and reasoning every day.

Alana DeSouza completes an eye exam"The experience we had in Senegal was unique and truly rewarding for everybody involved; from the patients, to the students and optometrists," says Alana Desouza, one of the 10 optometry students on the team. "We saw clinical presentations that we don't often see in Canada, and had the opportunity to think critically, under the supervision of enthusiastic practitioners. Overall, the experience was unforgettable!

Peter Stirling, a School staff member, also joined us on the trip and organized logistics in Senegal through a local NGO he works with, Aywa International. Aywa (which means "working together" in the local language) sent two American oseopathic medical student interns to join our team. In collaboration with Peace Corps health education volunteers working in the region, these interns assisted with translation and other clinic logistics. Working with other health-focused students and volunteers gave the perfect opportunity to learn from each other and set a strong foundation for inter-professional collaboration.

Over the course of the two clinics, we encountered many different pathologies, including trachoma, corneal scarring, complications from trauma to the eye, keratoconus, hypertensive retinopathy, early onset macular degeneration, and more. The most concerning cases were those with active trachoma, which often afflicted children of the same families. We treated these cases with oral and topical antibiotics, and educated parents on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of active trachoma. By far, the most common pathologies were due to sun damage. For example, many patients had early onset cataracts, pterygiums, pinguecula, and maculopathies. We dispensed sunglasses to almost every patient who came through our clinics.

Patient number 200 leaves on foot with a smileThe people in Bandafassi and in Ethiolo were incredibly warm and welcoming to our group. Many of our patients travelled long distances - often on foot - to reach our clinic. Patient #200 was a man who walked for several hours to arrive at our clinic just as we were packing up for the day, but we agreed to see him. He left looking stylish in a new pair of bifocal sunglasses with rose-coloured lenses. A flute player came to our last clinic day. When we asked for his contact information, all he told us was that he was the village flute player and that everyone at the health post would know where to find him. He had bilateral ptosis and when we asked him to cover one eye to take visual acuities, he laughed, reached around his head with his hand, and lifted one lid so he could see the visual acuity chart. We were so lucky to have met and worked alongside so many incredible people!

In the end, we referred 46 patients for cataract surgery, with all costs covered by VOSH, should they choose to undergo the procedure. We dispensed approximately 750 pairs of sunglasses, 400 pairs of reading glasses, and 300 pairs of prescription distance glasses. Thanks to all those who donated to our drug and surgery fund, we were able to provide care to the people who needed it.

Are you an optometrist who has considered volunteering your time on a trip overseas? We would love to hear from you! We have trips planned to the Ukraine, Philippines, Haiti and Senegal in 2019, and we are actively seeking optometrists to join us.

Please feel free to contact us: waterloo.vosh@uwaterloo.ca.

You can follow our work on Facebook or Instagram.

The team at the Bandafassi Clinic

The 2018 Senegal sVOSH team at the Bandafassi Clinic, together with local translators, Peace Corps volunteers and Aywa Interns.

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