By Julie Roegiers, General Manager of IRIS Mundial
Unheard of on a planetary level… Few people can say that they have not been affected in one way or another by the COVID-19 pandemic that hit 2020 and currently persists. As an international cooperation organization, IRIS Mundial was no exception, on the contrary…
On March 13, 2020, two IRIS Mundial volunteers were to fly to Senegal for 10 days to give a training session on primary eye care as part of our Program for the Prevention and Fight against Blindness (PPFB) in Saint-Louis (Senegal). The week before their departure was particularly challenging. We were abreast of any news to see whether it was wise or not to undertake this mission. The day before their departure, it became clear that we could not let them go…!
Furthermore, a multidisciplinary team of 25 volunteers should have travelled to Gabon as part of the 25th one-time project of IRIS Mundial since its creation. This project was planned for November 2020 to provide eye exams and glasses to approximately 2,000 people. Unfortunately, we had to suspend this mission's preparation and still do not know when it will take place.
However, as the context will have shown on numerous occasions, the pandemic will have allowed many people and organizations to test their capacities to adapt to change. Once again, the case of IRIS Mundial is no exception.
First of all, thanks to strong and well-established partnerships, the activities supported by IRIS Mundial were able to continue. IRIS Mundial's permanent programs aim to achieve better autonomy in terms of vision care in our countries of intervention and at enabling ophthalmological services to be taken over by local partners. This is, in particular, the case with the PPFB in St-Louis. IRIS Mundial has supported this program since January 2019. Like many countries worldwide, our partner, the Association St-Louisienne pour la Vue (ASV), had to close the doors of its ophthalmology community center for a few months at the beginning of the pandemic. They were able to reopen the center towards the end of June, and since then, the attendance is constant. However, the ASV had to stop all activities requiring large gatherings such as mobile clinics in schools and remote communities, awareness-raising and education sessions on visual health, hygiene, etc. We hope that these activities can resume as soon as possible. At IRIS Mundial, we are in weekly contact with the ASV to monitor the project's implementation and the achievement of the set objectives.
New avenues are also explored, including remote technology cooperation. Since the start of 2021, three volunteer optometrists from IRIS Mundial have been involved in videoconference training for the PPFB Saint-Louis team. Of course, we have to adapt. It is impossible to schedule the training for a whole day, 6 days in a row, as we do when we can be on-site. This training is therefore spread over several weeks. And the experience is very interesting!
So here we are…we have been quite busy since the beginning of this pandemic, despite the fact that we were unable to complete a mission. We are very fortunate to continue to count on our volunteers and our partners to support us in this period, which might seem less exciting, but which allows us to carry on with our current activities and give us time to consider new avenues for the organization. When the situation permits, we will be thrilled to resume training missions as well as one-time projects.