Within the eye health sector there are many ophthalmologists, optometrists, orthoptists dispensers, suppliers and practice staff who provide their services voluntarily to support others in Australia and overseas. National Volunteer Week (21 – 27 May) celebrates these volunteers and encourages others to offer their time and expertise in many ways.
Melbourne optometrist, and mivision contributor, Jessica Chi, is one optometrist who is helping to fight avoidable blindness among children in developing countries by volunteering with not-for-profit eye health charity Sight For All.
As an Sight For All Visionary volunteer Ms. Chi travels to neighbouring countries to train local ophthalmologists using the organisation’s hugely effective ‘teach a man to fish’ model – a unique and sustainable approach that encourages developing countries to become self-sufficient.
Ms. Chi said her interest in eye health was inspired from a young age. “When I was young, I read about Fred Hollows, and I thought, what an amazing gift to be able to give, especially to those who don’t have access or can’t afford access to eye care. Being short-sighted myself from age eight, I understand the importance of sight, and I understand what it is like to not have it.”
Her first trip with Sight For All was back in 2012, following an outbreak of Rubella in Vietnam.
“Having worked with speciality contact lenses since graduating, I well understood that rubella can result in congenital cataracts, among other birth defects,a nd this was what was happening in Vietnam – the babies were having their ocular lenses removed, but they were still not developing sight. The doctors there needed assistance.
“Optometrist Gavin O’Callaghan arranged a team of optometrists to provide training in the hospital. That was my first trip and I found it immensely rewarding.
“During that trip, I met a 10 month old baby who had had his cataracts removed at age two months but had no spectacles or contact lenses. He was unsettled and fidgety – obviously very uncomfortable in a new environment, especially as he could not see. I inserted some of our fitting contact lenses into his eyes, and the look of wonder and amazement on his face was overwhelming. He settled right down and just stared. There really isn’t anything much like watching a baby see for the first time.”
Teach a Man to Fish
Ms. Chi believes that Sight For All’s ‘teach a man to fish model’ makes “complete sense” because it will ensure eye health services can be sustained into the future.
“Sadly, the main causes of blindness in the developing world are cataract and not having access to spectacles or optical correction – these are far less significant causes of blindness in the developing world. Fortunately with the work of various charities, this number is falling.
“However, as quality of life and life expectancy increase in the developing world, so too will the number of age-related ocular diseases including macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
“In light of this, training local ophthalmologists to provide eye care for their communities is essential to creating sustainable eye care.”
Ms. Chi is keen to continue helping Sight For All achieve its goals by volunteering for future missions and advocating for the charity.
Find more information about Sight For All here.