Mission accomplished! We are now back from a mission in Saint-Louis, in Africa (Senegal). Over a period of 7 intense days, 30 volunteers from Quebec examined 2,000 patients and distributed sunglasses to each of them. Most of them received prescription glasses. We detected several cases of serious astigmatism some of which were complicated by keratoconus. 29 cataract surgeries were performed. Several cases of glaucoma were detected for which a long-term treatment plan was put in place. 

Cases of tropical endemic limbo conjunctivitis (TELC) both surprised and concerned us. It is a chronic allergic eye disease very common among children in tropical areas that can lead to long-term blindness if not treated. We had to watch this patient group very closely. Severe dry eye cases are also common in the region and also required attention. Sand, wind and dust are some triggering factors for this condition. 

A volunteer is adjusting a young patient's glasses

We must emphasize the collaborative work of the 3 “O’s” (opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists) together with the nurses, the doctor, computer scientist, optometrist assistant, social worker, preventive health technician, etc., without whom the goals of this mission could not have been accomplished. The discussions, the information sharing and the decision-making using the knowledge of each and every professional involved contributed to the professional development of all. Among the interventions there was the decision to operate the congenital cataracts of an 8-year-old girl, blind since birth. We will never forget the moment when the nurse asked the girl to look at her picture on the screen of her cell phone! Her amazement looking at the picture will forever be etched in my memory! This success even led to the decision to undertake other similar surgeries. 

Every volunteer has his or her own moving story the smiles resulting from successfully reading the visual chart on the wall or the chart for near vision or, the way a new pair of glasses enabled people to explore their surroundings as if they were living a miracle! 

A patient is freaking out when she sees through her glasses for the first time and the IRIS Mundial volunteer explodes in laughter when she sees her

I can still hear the joy of a mother who when asked, “what do you think?” and her answer, “I thank God for your visit!” We have made people happy not only for the services provided but also for the time we spent with them. Of course, a lot remains to be done. But the permanent program that IRIS Mundial will start with its Senegalese partner for the next two years provides long-term hope to everybody. A light at the end of the tunnel in all kinds of ways: visual, spiritual and human. 

I am grateful for this experience of solidarity with an extraordinary team of volunteers!

Salam alékoum (Greeting)
Marie-France Duguay, optometrist