Iris de Jong: “In January 2020, just before the outbreak of the global pandemic, I went to Ghana together with Ellen Blom, who is an orthoptist, to provide eyecare. For Ellen it was her third visit, and for me it was my second time in Ghana and by now this country has acquired a special place in my heart.
We stayed in Jachi, which is an 8-hour drive north of the capital Accra, where we slept in a convent. We were welcomed there by Sister Aba, a Ghanaian nun, who studied optometry in England. She is trying to improve eye care in Ghana and to make it more accessible. She achieves this by going on outreach to remote villages and schools with a team of Ghanaian optometrists and opticians. In Ghana, people do not easily go to the doctor. They don't go because they are ashamed of it or because of the distance they have to travel. That is why, eye diseases such as glaucoma are often discovered too late, causing blindness in some situations. Sister Aba makes sure that a team with eye specialists visits the remote areas once every two years to ensure everyone has a chance to have their eyes checked and tested.
When we're there, we join the outreach. We perform eye tests together with Ghanaian opticians and check the health of the optic nerve. If necessary, they receive a prescription for glasses or we tell them to go to the clinic in Jachi, for a comprehensive glaucoma test.
Sister Aba believes it is important that the quality of eye care improves, so she is always delighted when ophthalmologists, optometrists or orthoptists from Europe visit. For Ghanaian eye care professionals, it is always instructive to spend a few weeks working with others.
Over our two weeks, we performed 1600 eye tests and many people were referred for glasses or further glaucoma examinations. It is rewarding work and it is fun to work as an optometrist in this way. You visit many different places and work in so many different circumstances that you become a lot more creative and proficient in your job. Sometimes the chickens are pecking around your feet whilst you're working or the whole village is watching. Something you would not experience otherwise. A nice bit of variety in your work!”