For our outreach days, transport was arranged by the University of Cape Coast. However, I would normally only get a message 30 minutes before pick-up time which meant we never knew when to be ready. With the short notice, it felt like we were part of “The Apprentice” getting ready to meet Lord Sugar. It was fair to say we were late the majority of times and our bus driver, Francis, hated us. But we loved Francis.
The pioneering team of optometry students performed over 400 sight tests in relentless heat and humidity. They performed retinoscopy and ophthalmoscope in daylight with patients that had dense cataracts and small pupils which can be challenging even for the most experienced practitioners. Almost all patients that were examined were unable to speak English and therefore students had to suddenly adapt by altering their routine and communication to safely perform the examination.
Through the outreach, we supplied free spectacles and artificial eye drops for those in need. The most common ocular pathology that we came across was advance glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts. In some unfortunate cases, spectacles could not provide any significant improvement to vision, but the students rose to the challenge and provided counselling services and discussed other ways to make the most out of their vision (including any non-optical low vision techniques for example, eccentric viewing, increasing lighting and contrast).
As a newly qualified optometrist myself, there were some pathologies that I had never dealt with in the past such as uveitis in a child. In these cases we referred those patients to the university eye department for further investigation and treatment. Throughout the five days of outreach work in Cape Coast, I saw the students all improve their clinical techniques, communication and decision making exponentially. I believe they took in and learnt so much from the outreach clinics which provided them with additional support to supplement a lifelong career of examining, treating, and managing patients.