CORNER BROOK — When it comes to worldwide eyecare, a pair of local optometrists have seen a lot.
Dr. Carl Durand and Dr. Daniel Walker, optometrists with First Choice Vision Clinic in Corner Brook, have each been part of a number of overseas missions. They have offered their expertise in countries such as Romania, Ecuador, Mexico, Morocco, and combined on a team to Malawi.
They both admit the experiences had been valuable for themselves as young optometrists learning the trade as well as to patients throughout the world who otherwise would have been without examinations and treatment.
Many of their missions primarily focused on eye refraction and finding them prescription lenses, most of which had been donated. Their internship in Malawi, however, put them in a setting to deal more exclusively with the treatment of eye disease.
The African republic is hit particularly hard by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a disease which devastates the immune system and can lead to cataract problems, according to Durand. It is further complicated by few optometrists in the country and the lack of free or affordable eyecare and medications.
Walker said there are a number of positives of such missions, including improving people’s vision and finding them glasses to help cut down on vision loss worldwide. It also leads to referrals for secondary eyecare, but he said they are unaware just how many people avail of that or how effective it was.
“To be honest, as a student, I don’t really know what happened with those, like how well they got followed up,” he said, during a session at Memorial University, Grenfell Campus for the Canadian International Development Agency’s International Development Week.
Durand said there were also a number of areas they felt could be improved upon, including that lack of any follow up. There are often poorly matched prescriptions or glasses types for individuals, he said, and there is a need to improve the equipment.
But he felt the corruption they experienced at the local level was the worst problem — something he experienced the most in Romania. For the clinic there, tickets were dispersed to local officials to be given out within the community, but that’s not exactly how it turned out.
“Almost the first three days we were there, we saw people in suits and people who already had their own glasses,” Durand said. “It was basically the friends of local government officials who just wanted a free pair of glasses.”
He found it frustrating because they either didn’t need glasses or they had no appreciation for the glasses they received.
“They were also taking the spots of people that really needed to be seen,” he added. “It’s hard to control things like that, but it took away from us being able to help more people.”