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Eye clinics in tsunami affected areas
Over 5,000 pairs of spectacles were issued free of charge
Sri Lanka eye clinic

Sri Lanka Reflections

How should one expect to feel after an intensive two week eyecare project on the tsunami affected east coast of Sri Lanka? Exhausted, burnt out, jet-lagged and needing a holiday? Well…. inspired, refreshed, extremely well fed and thoroughly rewarded are the most appropriate terms I can think of after having had a fantastic experience. Thanks to the generosity of sponsors, good planning by International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE) hard work and great support from local NGO Centre for Health Care (CHC) myself and four other volunteer optometrists were able to examine over two thousand patients in ten days. This included dispensing almost as many pairs of ready made spectacles to meet the visual needs of the Tamil and Moslem communities after the devastation of the 2004 boxing day tsunami. The warmth and good humour of those we treated and the close bonds forged with the health workers are to be fondly remembered.

Sri Lanka clinic
Many situations are worth recalling but let me attempt to relay just two. The first is regarding the dispensing of sunglasses, a commodity that we had to fend off frequent requests for from the military at checkpoints. Such vigilance permitted us to dispense sun protection to those with anterior disease who would most benefit. The political tensions of the region are well known throughout the world. Despite the troop presence none of us at any time felt threatened in any way. Our donated sunglass collection happened to contain several pairs of a particular brand of sunglasses with the word “Tiger” emblazoned proudly on both sides of one of the gentleman’s styles. When it was my turn at the dispensing table at one of the camps I was able to dispense a “Tiger” model to a well groomed Moslem gentleman. Despite the language difficulties we were both able to share our amusement over this and later while taking patient record cards back to the registration table I was able to call to him “vaanakam (hello) Tiger” across the camp grounds, which brought on a broad persistent smile.
Sri Lanka clinic

The second relates to the sad situation of cataract blindness. While we were able to identify those in need of sight restoring surgery for future treatment, the harsh economic reality continually preyed on my subconscious. Many if not most will be unable to find the approx $18 patient contribution condemning them to continuing visual disablement, possibly for life. On the last day I examined a woman of fifty, just a few years older than myself, so profoundly blind that the brightest torchlight available was only just distinguishable when blazing into her ‘better’ eye from a few centimetres away. Is she to be condemned to this fate for another twenty or more years for lack of the asking price of a pub lunch? Hopefully not due to the inspiring work of the programs sponsors and volunteers. All developed world eyecare practitioners should make the time to contribute a little to counter such gross inequities in the 21st century.

Ralph Green
Melbourne, Australia
Aug 2005

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