Giving the gift of sight, from Flinders to Nepal

Nepalese villagers waiting for eye examinations.
Nepalese villagers waiting for eye examinations.

Eight villages, nine days and some 6,200 eye examinations; no wonder Flinders University Optometrist Jason Booth was admittedly exhausted on his recent return from Nepal.

The Head Optometrist at Flinders University’s community eye clinic, Flinders Vision, travelled to Nepal last month as part of a Rotary Australia World Community Service mission to detect and treat vision impairments among remote Nepalese communities.

“It was an exhausting nine days but extremely rewarding at the same time,” Mr Booth says of what was his 13th Eye Teams Nepal mission.

“The aim of the trip was to treat visual impairments caused by the need for spectacles and to issue referrals to local services for people whose vision is impaired because of cataracts,” he says.

“During the mission we saw two men in their ‘60s who spun wool for a living but they couldn’t afford reading glasses, so when we gave them each a pair [of glasses] it was a fantastic feeling to know they could finally see what they were doing.”

Mr Booth was among 21 Australian volunteers who took part in Eye Teams Nepal; together with fellow Flinders colleague Dave Jacobs, the Clinic Manager of Flinders Vision, and fourth-year Master of Optometry students Jose Estevez Bordan and Lilian Tjia.

The Flinders team contributed significantly to the aid program, with the students alone seeing an average of 50 people each a day. More than 6,200 Nepalese people were examined in total, with 6,000 pairs of glasses distributed and 330 cataract operations sponsored.

Mr Booth said the trip – which was a first-ever for Flinders Optometry – provided the students with invaluable, real-world experience.

He said the Optometry Department is now aiming to offer all future students an overseas aid placement as part of their studies.

“On the first day the students’ level of excitement was phenomenal and it didn’t diminish the whole time they were there.

“In nine days they saw patients with a condition I’ve only seen four times in 15 years of practice in Australia.

“Seeing conditions that aren’t commonly encountered in Australia is a great learning opportunity, and one that we hope to extend to all students in the future.”

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