I’m sure most of us can relate to having experienced some sort of seasonal allergy when Spring and Summer comes around. For some it’s a mild case of hayfever, whereas for others, it can be a struggle getting through those months. Besides the constant runny nose and sneezing, seasonal allergies also have a large effect on our eyes – from watery eyes to allergic conjunctivitis.
VOSH International is a volunteer group that brings eye examinations and glasses to those who cannot afford eye health care in developing countries around the world. I was lucky enough to have embarked on their mission to Tecalitlan, a small town in Mexico, in November last year. The mission group included 3 Optometrists from USA and Canada, 7 optometry students from the Queensland University of Technology (including myself), 9 optometry students from the Illinois College of Optometry and several volunteers who helped in pre-testing, dispensing and translating.
Collectively, we saw over 3500 patients over 8 days with approximately 2800 patients requiring glasses. I had seen more eye disease and other ocular conditions in these 8 days than I had ever seen in Australia. Almost every patient had visible sun damage to their eyes (pterygiums and pingueculae), a large percentage of the aging patients had advanced cataracts, many had high blood pressure and diabetes with consequent damage to their retina (some were advanced and needed urgent attention), along with untreated glaucoma and macular degeneration. It was also very common to see patients with immensely high uncorrected vision, and not being able to afford glasses meant that they have lived their entire lives not knowing clear vision until the day we gave them glasses. Almost all of these patients were unaware of the current state of their eye health, all they knew was that their vision was deteriorating and they never understood why.
We live in a first world country where the luxury of health care is so easily accessible. Rarely would any of these conditions be seen so advanced in their time course due to preventative therapy, early detection and access to effective and safe treatment options. Not only was this trip incredibly eye opening, but it was also very humbling to witness how these people could be so happy and content despite the little that they had. I can honestly say that this trip had taught me so much more than I could ever imagine, and not only in the aspect of optometry, but also from the people. I will always be grateful for this experience and could only hope that our time in Tecalitlan has helped change the lives of the people we saw for the better.
For more information on VOSH International and their mission, please visit http://vosh.org/. You can also do your part to help by donating to the cause, every little bit helps!