|Eye clinics in
tsunami affected areas
Over 5,000 pairs of spectacles were issued free of charge
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.
|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.
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