In November 2019 I was part of a team of volunteers, optometrists and dispensing opticians, requested by the Deep Griha Society, to provide eye examinations and spectacles to outlying villages and slums in and around the town of Pune, east of Mumbai.
DGS is a NGO which has been supporting disadvantaged families and orphans in the community in Pune since 1975. They work to provide education about healthcare, skills to help employment and much more. The slum community around the head office of DGS is home to around 80,000 people who have poor healthcare, hygiene and poverty. Pune iteslf is home to many military bases and is a prosperous industrial town but the surrounding villages usually have limited healthcare on a very intermittent basis.
Our team consisted of 4 optometrists and 1 dispensing optician. Each of us was responsible for part of the team planning from booking flights to in-country travel and hotels. Every step was agreed by the team and we all completed fundraising. This allowed us to reach as many people as possible and to also provide specs at every opportunity we could. 1500 Spectacles were ordered ready made before the project, made by a local optician, allowing us to support a local business. In the villages we usually worked in a school where the all the children were screened as well as most of the local community. Eye examinations were then carried out and spectacles dispensed when needed according to our ready made supply. For those who needed a more complex prescription we could provide a new frame and the patient then had the opportunity to take their prescription and the frame to an outlet in town if they were able. There are many opticians in the high street in Pune but the examinations are often by machines only and there is no ophthalmological investigation.
We were always made very welcome to the village with a ceremony by the head man and our delicious lunches were prepared in the village, dinner plates were piled high, as well as endless cups of chai! We were very fortunate to be working with second year student nurses from Pune University, they provided translation for us, gained experience and in return we were able to share our clinical knowledge with them. An added bonus was them keeping us entertained with singing bollywood songs on our bus journeys! At the weekend we took the opportunity to travel out of town to one of the beautiful hill stations, Mahbeleshwar. A chance to rest before the second week of clinics. After 2 weeks we examined 1230 and provided 825 pairs of spectacles. We referred approx 200 people to the next ophthalmology team mostly for cataract extraction but also suspect glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy etc. Some of these patients we were able to provide magnifiers, allowing someone to read again, look at post, prepare food and read religious texts, what may seem like small things but can be life changing.