Local doctor travels to South Africa to help with new clinic
On Oct. 4, Dr. Jared Long, an optometrist at Airdrie Eye Care, packed his bags and boarded a plane heading to Malawi, South Africa.
Long is taking part in a two-week project where he and four others from Canadian Vision Care (CVC) will treat patients and help newly trained optometrists from the new Malawi Optometry School, established at Mzuzu University.
“We will probably see several hundred patients a day, and there will probably be lots of kids,” Long said.
This is the doctor’s first trip to Africa, but he has been on similar trips to Mexico and Jamaica.
He said to prepare for the trip he’s spoken with people that have gone before in order to get a sense of what to expect.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and ranks 170 out of 187 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s 2012 human development index. The index measures development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income.
In Malawi three out of four people live on less than US$1.25 per day and the life expectancy is 55.2 years for women is and 54.9 for men.
“It’s always a good reminder of some of the things we take for granted,” Long said of the trip.
The doctor said he expects to see patients with severe cataracts that could have easily been treated here but have been left untreated in Malawi and have resulted in patients being legally blind.
“Often in these types of places, we see everything in the worst degree because there is no access to health care,” he said.
Long added something like a simple eye infection that would be treated with antibiotics here, can balloon to a serious issue when left untreated and can result in a detached cornea that would require surgery to fix.
The optometrist said during the day when he is working in a clinic and treating several hundred people a day, he doesn’t really have the time to stop and think about what he is seeing and experiencing.
He said at night the doctors will likely get together and reflect on what they experienced during the day.
“It can be very overwhelming but at the end of the day you know helping others overrides those challenges.”
He said he became involved in the project when on a CVC project in Mexico and had the opportunity to meet Allan Jones, who spearheaded the establishment of the Malawi Optometry School along with Optometry Giving Sight.
“What I really like about this opportunity is the fact that we are working with local people who will be able to help themselves,” he said, adding the program is a long-term sustainable one and is akin to work on the belief of “giving a man a fish and he can eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he can eat for life.”
“This is utilizing the education I was privileged to receive in order to help the less fortunate,” he said.
Long is paying for the flight himself but accommodations will be covered by CVC.
“It is very easy in our lives to become complacent and take things for granted.”
He said sharing what he experiences with his patients often results in them telling him how it helps them realize how fortunate they are to have all they do.
“There are three ways to effect change in the world: voting, how you spend your money and how you spend your time,” Long said, adding this is his way of giving back to the world for all the opportunities he has as a Canadian.
For more information on the project or to donate, visit www.canadianvisioncare.com or