Volunteer response team examines 8,106 people and dispenses 8,083 single vision glasses.
“Eye care facilities in the area have been totally destroyed. There is no way to get even simple reading glasses at the moment,” reported Dr. Suraj Upadhyaya who represented Optometry Giving Sight and its donors and sponsors as part of a volunteer emergency response team that went to the Philippines in late January. “People were busy restoring what is left behind, building their houses and other infrastructure but it is difficult for them to do so with the absence of their glasses.”
Typhoon Yolanda (known internationally as Haiyan) was one of the strongest storms ever recorded to hit the Philippines with wind speeds of more than 300 km/hr and storm surges of over four meters.
Approximately 14 million people were affected. The number of reported dead reached 6,183. A further 27,022 people were reported injured, with 1,779 persons still missing. Although Yolanda hit the Philippines on November 8, 2013 even today, in most affected areas priority humanitarian needs continue to be food, shelter, recovery of livelihoods and restoration of basic services.
The Optometric outreach team was coordinated by Dr. Marina Roma-March from Third World Eye Care Society (TWECS) in Canada and comprised volunteers from U.S.A, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and Malawi.
There were thousands of heartbreaking stories. “Many of the patients arrived with scratched/damaged glasses or had lost their glasses during the typhoon,” says Dr. Upadhyaya.
“One patient, Lonna, age 42, lost two children to Yolanda an 11 year old and a 4 year old. We were able to provide her with 2 pairs of glasses.”
Working in crushing humidity and surrounded by thousands of hungry, homeless and desperate people the team carried out relief goods distribution and free eye care services. They worked in Tacloban city hospital (approximately 360 miles southeast of Manila) for 6 days and served 3,567 people there alone. They also went to Tanauan and Basey. All together 8,106 people we examined and 8,083 single vision glasses were dispensed.
Free eye examinations and glasses were given to teachers, nurses, correction officers and government officials. “They came to the TWECS clinic not because they cannot afford glasses, but because there is nowhere else to go to get the glasses they need to do their daily jobs.”
Despite the pain and devastation, people would approach to thank and hug the outreach team. With great dignity they would persevere in the heat and wait patiently, often for hours, to have their eyes examined.
For Dr. Upadhyaya the experience was tough but very rewarding. “Till the day we left few schools, hospitals, banks and markets were reopened. Full recovery will take years. The service we provided in affected areas was incomparable. We all were very tired throughout the mission. Now we are very satisfied. I am very satisfied with what I did there. I want to thank Optometry Giving Sight, the World Council of Optometry, Malawi College of Health Science, Mzuzu University / BHVI and VOSH International for making it possible – and TWECS for allowing me to part of their team.”
Dr. Upadhyaya has now returned to his permanent job as a lecturer with the Regional school of Optometry for Southern Africa in Malawi.
All photos courtesy of Dr. Maxwell Cheng, Third World Eye Care Society (TWECS).