On my second visit to Malawi I was asked to take on a new venture. VIP had acquired a package of eye glasses and lenses through their partnership with Global Vision 2020. This consisted of 250 pairs of frames and a variety of corrective lenses. But the key feature was a device which is worn like glasses which has a plastic piece on each side which can be adjusted with a wheel to change the setting. We would first test a patient’s vision using an eye chart taped to the wall and identify on what line their vision started to fail. Then we would use the device to identify what corrective setting cleared up their vision. Using setting on the plastic piece we could then select the specific lens from a case of lenses and snap them into the frames.
The real significance of this project is that these people had no access to glasses before we brought this here. In many instances, when the new glasses were placed on the patient, their face brightened up with the realization that they could see clearly. We also brought reading glasses in various strengths. Again, the reaction from the people when they could clearly see the words in their medical passport was very rewarding. Wearing glasses myself, from a young age, I can appreciate how beneficial they will be.
We are trying to make this program a sustainable one rather than something that only happens with the clinics. One of the group that ran the eye clinic portion of the clinic was a local Malawian teacher. I trained him on how to conduct the exams and how to assemble the glasses. He then did most of the exams and the interaction with the Malawians while I assembled the glasses from the resulting tests. To keep the program sustainable, we charged about $1 for each pair of glasses. This should be enough to cover the costs of replacing the frames and the lenses and to generate a small profit for the teacher.
Another aspect of the eye clinic was the participation of a local Malawian eye doctor. Many of the people who showed up at the eye clinic had problems with their eyes that were not related to glasses and he was able to provide assistance through drugs from our pharmacy or through a referral to the local hospital for proper treatment. Again, this access to eye care is something which does not normally exist in the villages. We are now looking at the opportunity to add eye care to the ongoing clinic services.