The 2017 winners of the Irvine Aitchison Memorial Fund (IAMF) bursary spent two weeks alongside qualified Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians to deliver eye care services in the Kafue district, Zambia.


In September 2017, second year Optometry students Niraj Vaitha and Rejoana Ali embarked on a two-week assignment to Kafue district located in the western region of Zambia to deliver vital eye care services. The district which has a population of over 242,000 people, has one of the highest growth rates at district level across Zambia with an increase of 4.9 percent in the 2010 National Census.

During the two weeks, the students worked alongside qualified Optometrists at the eye clinic in Kafue General Hospital and helped to deliver outreach services to surrounding towns and villages where access to basic eyecare is scarce or, if available, is unaffordable.

Rejoana who studies at the University of Bradford told us;

Throughout the assignment, my time was shared between the clinic we set up at the Kafue General Hospital and going on outreaches to towns and villages surrounding Kafue. It was only the first day when I realised the importance of the work of VAO, as I was able to see the vast limitations of the access to eye care and the difference we could make.

The Irvine Aitchison Memorial Fund (IAMF) provides bursaries for second year students on optometry or dispensing optics courses to work with Vision Aid Overseas on an overseas assignment.

Niraj Vaitha, student at City University continued;

One memory from the trip that will always stick with me is the initial reaction of each patient when they first put on a simple pair of reading glasses- namely those who have been struggling with their vision for many years. The sense of fulfilment once I had dispensed these patients is a feeling like no other. One particular patient, a teacher who had been suspended due to reading issues, came in having no light perception in their left eye- a consequence from a simple operation on their leg, which had gone wrong. I was overjoyed when I was able to dispense him some reading spectacles, meaning he will be able to now return to teaching.

Without affordable eye care services, patients struggling to work and learn due to poor eyesight often live with their condition untreated, which can intensify symptoms and can consequently lead to permanent disability (blindness). Therefore, since 1999 Vision Aid Overseas has been working across Zambia to help address the shortage of eye care workers and access to affordable eye care services and glasses.

 

Working in partnership with the Specsavers Optical Group, Ministry of Health and other partners, Vision Aid Overseas has so far:

  • Developed a diploma course in Optometry at the Chainama College of Health Sciences in Lusaka
  • Established eleven Vision Centres in each district across Zambia
  • Supported community eye care services, enhancing the skills of Ophthalmic Nurses and Ophthalmic Clinical Officers
  • Provided Continued Professional Development training to Optometry Technologist graduates from Chainama College to reinforce their clinical skills as they transition from college to work.
  • Developed a centre of excellence at Chainama College of Health Sciences to support and inspire all the Zambian Vision Centres

To find out more about volunteering with Vision Aid Overseas, click here.