One thing that the last two years of the pandemic have taught us is to be flexible and innovative. The entire international cooperation sector has reorganized and reinvented itself. For the better? Let's hope so...
Cooperation at a distance is not new for IRIS Mundial. We have always relied on trust, autonomy, and balanced collaboration. IRIS Mundial recognizes its partners as sovereigns in the implementation of their mission and as the keepers of the privileged link with their community and their beneficiaries. Thus, the Programs for the Prevention and Fight against Blindness (PPFB) are programs implemented by our partners in Haiti and Senegal, who are involved in all decisions that concern them. IRIS Mundial provides financial, logistical, and capacity-building support and is always available for its partners. IRIS Mundial interacts from a distance but it is the staff of the partners themselves that are deployed for the implementation of the programs.
Remote cooperation has always been part of IRIS Mundial's daily work, but the pandemic has led us to go even further in this direction. During the last two years, all capacity-building activities have had to be organized at a distance.
Two of our volunteers (an optometrist and an optician) were planning to go to Senegal to give a 10-day training to the nurses and the optician at PPFB Saint-Louis. Their departure was scheduled for March 13, 2020. Their mission had to be canceled the day before their departure. Seeing that the situation was not going to improve and that travel was impossible, we decided to try new avenues and to start organizing distance training.
At the beginning of 2021, Dr. Marie-Chantal Hudon and Dr. Francine Lavallée provided training in basic eye health (level 1) for the new PPFB Saint-Louis nurse. This training was organized in 9 modules of 2 hours during the months of February through to early April 2021. There were theory sessions as well as practical exercises. This first online experience was globally positive. It also allowed for small adjustments to be made in terms of hardware and remote technology.
During the months of April and May 2021, Dr. Marie-France Duguay gave level 2 training to the nurses of the PPFB Saint-Louis. This was an advanced training on refraction as well as on the use of the phoropter. The phoropter is a diagnostic instrument that allows us to determine the refractive error of the eye and to specify the power of the lenses needed to correct the vision. It was given to our Senegalese partner, the Association St-Louisienne pour la Vue, for use in their community ophthalmology center. Dr. Duguay was able to show the nurses how to use it. "At first, I wondered how we could do this training remotely with this big instrument. Well, we did it, it worked and we're going to continue," she says. There were many exercises based on case studies. For example, during an eye examination, an objective refraction (performed with a measuring device, the auto-refractometer) must be complemented by a subjective refraction which can be done with the phoropter. By questioning his patient, the professional defines the lenses that will offer his patient the best vision and the greatest comfort. The case studies analyzed with the trainer allow the nurses to reflect on how to make an evaluation according to the different contexts of each patient: age, professional activity, eye health problems if applicable, patient's feelings, etc. Since there is no one correct answer, it was interesting to be able to discuss the different possibilities and have the trainer share her experience.
These trainings are followed by monthly mentoring sessions during which the nurses and IRIS Mundial's volunteer optometrists can discuss concrete cases.
Finally, in September 2021, a half-day training was given by one of our volunteer opticians, Sophie Duchesne. On this occasion, the optician at the Saint-Louis community ophthalmology center had expressed the wish to have a refresher course in the field of lens edging for frames with nylon thread. Because of the particular structure of nylon frames (which do not have a rigid frame all the way around), edging lenses for these frames requires a very specific technique. Sophie Duchesne therefore decided to set up a lens edging workshop in the IRIS boutique in Blainville to train the Saint-Louis eyewear manufacturer directly.
As the pandemic situation is still evolving, we are going to continue with these distance training and mentoring programs for the time being. Moreover, in Haiti, the security situation was already encouraging us to review our working methods before the pandemic, particularly in terms of training. Dr. Marie-Chantal Hudon, Vice-President of IRIS Mundial, comments: "the pandemic will also have taught us how to work from a distance; in countries where remote communication is possible". Thanks to the funding recently granted by the Ministère des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie of Quebec (MRIF), we decided to invest in distance technology to improve the quality of these trainings: portable webcam, reinforced sound system, etc.