Shyam's Zambia Adventure

“One of the best experiences of my life” – that was how Optometrist Shyam Lakhani described his recent working trip to Zambia as a volunteer with Vision Aid Overseas.

In two weeks Shyam, with his three Vision Aid Overseas colleagues (including his fiancée Dulari) and two newly qualified Zambian Optometrists, examined 1185 patients.

Shyam explained: “Access to eye care in Zambia is very limited for the general population, optical care is generally provided privately and is very expensive." Vision Aid Overseas aims to increase awareness of eye care and to make eye care in Zambia self sustainable by training local students in Optometry. The charity also holds outreach programmes in remote and rural areas for Optometrists from the U.K such as Shyam to provide eye care to those whom are very needy.

“We were based at the Vision Aid Overseas Vision Centre at St Francis Hospital in the Eastern Province and every day we drove out to different locations including villages, schools and hospitals. Our examination room was often a 3m x 6m tent, where all 6 of us were carrying out our examinations at once! It was crowded, but the atmosphere was great and we formed really strong working relationships and true friendships. In addition to examinations and dispensing, we screened for serious eye conditions and referred a large number of patients for cataract surgery and for glaucoma management.”

“We took it in turn to act as Dispensing Optician, which was a really rewarding role. We took reading glasses with a whole selection of different prescriptions with us, which we provided on the spot for patients who needed them. For those who needed distance vision correction, we had around 15-20 frames for patients to choose from. Their glasses were made at the Vision Centre and delivered to them a couple of weeks later.”

Shyam’s personal highlight of the trip came on the last day. He explains: “A very poor 50 year old man with very limited vision and little education had walked a long way to come and see us after hearing on the local radio we were in town. After checking his vision, I was shocked to discover he could only see clearly at about 15cm in front of him, anything further was a blur! With the assistance of one of the local Zambian Optometrists I was able to refract him; finding he was –8.50DS Right and Left! This meant he was able to see clearly at all distances for the first time, showing him his corrected vision left him in tears of joy! This is a memory that will stay with me for the rest of my life and one which makes me proud to be in a profession which I can help improve the quality of life of my patients. I will always remain thankful to all that donated to this wonderful cause allowing me to go out and help improve the vision of so many. Also, a special thank you to Mr and Mrs Glass for being so encouraging and supportive throughout.”

Thank you to all those patients who donated to Vision Aid Overseas in the weeks before the trip. Patients raised £360, which Mr and Mrs Glass have matched, making a grand total of £720.

Shyam is now back into his routine at Loughborough and Long Eaton, and is already planning his next professional challenge, undertaking specialist training in glaucoma.