Article Date: 10/1/2007

A Mission for Vision
reflections THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY

A Mission for Vision

Teaching optometry to those less fortunate has a far greater impact than providing direct care.

MATTHEW PEARCE, O.D., M.P.H. ATLANTA

A look of sheer terror crossed my wife Nicole's face as we heard gunfire nearby. As we ducked for cover in the dilapidated van, I thought, "What have I gotten us into?"

Nicole (also an O.D.) and I were returning to our flat in the beautiful, mountainous Palestinian city of Nablus after a full day of orientation meetings at An-Najah National University in the West Bank.

Vision camp flashback

In the few moments between the gunfire and regaining my composure, I thought of my first trip to the occupied territories, which was in the summer of 1999.

I was in Palestine to provide eye care to the local population as part of the Pacific University College of Optometry Amigos EyeCare group. Despite having made advanced contact with our Palestinian hosts, local government officials told us to leave. They said the Palestinian people would find ways to take care of their own vision needs. After some pleading from our team leaders and our local hosts, however, they permitted us to treat grade-school children.

Matthew and Nicole Pearce pose with An-Najah students.

For the remainder of our trip, however, the statement, "the Palestinian people would find ways to take care of their own vision needs," reverberated in my mind. Yes, our camp was able to treat many individuals, but we did nothing to create an infrastructure or human resources. I, therefore, felt the impact we made was temporary at best.

The right to sight

Earlier in 1999, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), among other organizations concerned with global blindness, developed VISION 2020: The Right to Sight. This global initiative calls for local human resource and infrastructure development in developing countries to combat preventable blindness by the year 2020.

Eager to put the principles of VISION 2020 into action in Palestine, my wife and I became instructors at An-Najah National University for one semester, upon discovering the school was seeking foreign O.D.s to teach optometry. (Students earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Optometry. All classes are in English.)

A yearn to learn

Nicole and I were thrilled with our bright and passionate young students. One student, Asma, said she wanted to become an O.D. to help her father, who was blinded by a construction accident and struggling to find post-accident care.

An-Najah National University will graduate its first class of Palestinian optometrists in May 2008. Armed with skills in all aspects of vision care, including "medical optometry," they will be able to meet the vision-care needs of Palestinians for many years to come through constant direct service and by acting as optometric educators.

The gunshots we heard turned out to have come from a policeman firing his rifle into the air. Perhaps he was acting as our unofficial welcome wagon, thanking us for trying to leave a lasting impact on the visual health needs of the Palestinian people. OM


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643-8139, OR -KIRBYJ@LWWVISIONCARE.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.



Optometric Management, Issue: October 2007