Katie in Africa

Hi everyone! I’ve recently returned from my volunteering in Africa and I’m back at work at Central Vision. It was a great experience, but very hard work at the same time. Ghana was very hot (33-36 degrees) and humid (up to 86% humidity), and we were working mainly in open air churches and halls. I was working alongside a Ghanaian optometrist, two ophthalmic nurses, two other staff members, and one American volunteer. We saw up to 400 people a day, and each day went to a different village. I saw some very dense cataracts, macular degeneration, corneal scarring from infections or injuries, and end stage glaucoma where the person was completely blind. That was very sad because glaucoma is a treatable condition, and in New Zealand we are able to pick it up early (if the person comes in for an eye exam!) and get the person on treatment before it causes blindness. Unfortunately in Africa this is not always possible. Next I went to Bamenda in Cameroon which was fortunately much cooler and a more comfortable temperature to be working in. There we had a team of 12 optometrists: two of us from NZ, two from the USA, one from Canada, and seven recently graduated optometrists from Nigeria. We worked from 8am-7pm every day with a 20 minute break for lunch, and on our busiest day saw 820 people. It was exhausting, but the patients were all lovely and very appreciative, even the ones at the end of the day who had been waiting for 10 hours! Some people started lining up at 5am to get in, which goes to show how badly health care is needed there. Some of the patient highlights for me was a three year old girl who was a -14.00D myope, so she could literally see nothing clearly unless it was less than 10cm from her face. It was really sad to see that, but it made me so pleased to be able to help her. We saw several patients with albinism, so it was really great to be able to provide them with sunglasses, which would make a huge difference to their quality of life. Other people just wanted to be able to read their bible, and were so happy with their reading glasses we provided. The 600 pairs of reading glasses kindly donated by my patients in Wanaka, Queenstown and Alexandra were given to the patients in Ghana, as the progamme I went through in Cameroon supplied all the glasses themselves from the USA with our volunteering fee. I also fundraised money, which provided 17 people in Ghana with cataract surgery, and I was lucky enough to be able to witness all 17 surgeries on one of the days I was there. The surgeon and nurses were very, very busy! One thing about traveling, particularly to developing countries, is that it makes you realize and appreciate how lucky we are here in New Zealand. We have clean drinking water, proper rubbish disposal and recycling, fresh and healthy food to eat, and good health care. At work here in New Zealand I have at my disposal all the latest equipment and technology to ensure

my patients are getting the highest level of care. This means we can detect and manage eye conditions as soon as possible, which results in the best possible prognosis for the patient. A huge thanks goes out to everyone who helped out either by making a financial donation, or donating glasses: my wonderful patients, Victoriya and her lovely customers at OCD Cafe, the Lions Club of Wanaka, the Rotary Club of Wanaka, and the Wanaka Chamber of Commerce for your support. And finally, a huge thanks goes out to Tui Homer for your financial contribution for getting the glasses over to Ghana with me, and of course allowing me the time off to go and volunteer, and hold the fort while I was away