Having previously participated in an outreach to Laos in 2015 with Global Hand Charity (GHC), a charity that organises volunteer trips to developing countries, Specsavers Preston graduate optometrist Nuwan De Silva jumped at the opportunity to again provide optometric care abroad – this time in his home country, Sri Lanka. Here, Nuwan describes what his second outreach experience meant to him as both an optometrist and a Sri Lankan national.

The Sri Lanka tour was something GHC and I had talked about back in 2015, during the Laos tour, and at the time, I expressed interest in being part of the trip. Little did we know it would become a reality so soon.

When GHC reached out to me a few months ago querying if I was able to attend the Sri Lanka outreach from 1 to 8 December 2017, I immediately asked my mentor, Specsavers Preston Optometry Partner Paul Salloum. Thankfully, Paul supported my involvement and allowed me to work extra days to use as time in lieu for the days taken on the trip.

Partnered with the Rotary Club of Sri Lanka, the outreach team included four optometrists, three students and four extra helpers / dispensers. We were designated four rural towns to cover over four days and we set ourselves a limit of 500 patients a day to be screened and dispensed. A few of the sites had only received clean water over the last few years via the Rotary Club. It was evident that they had very limited access to spectacles and healthcare in general.

During the trip, we saw over 2,100 patients and dispensed just under 2,500 single vision prescriptions. These prescriptions were based on retinoscopy, as overcoming language barriers was a challenge. Of these patients, only about 30 people already had their own pair of glasses and over 90% was presbyopic with no correction at all. We were truly changing lives at that point – patients were able to write again, read a newspaper with ease, sew their children’s clothes.

There were, unfortunately, some glasses that could not be dispensed. We saw patients with high myopia, high astigmatism and dense cataracts that required referrals; funds are now being raised to manufacture glasses to send back to these patients. There were also a number of interesting cases documented. We saw two Bell’s Palsy cases within an hour, a number bilateral colobomas, keratoconics and some very interesting appearances of cataracts.

This tour with GHC meant a lot to me. It provided me with the opportunity to go back to my birth country and do something with my professional knowledge, to give back to people that I knew needed it desperately. It was an opportunity I could not refuse, and I am eternally grateful to GHC and to the store directors at Specsavers Preston for allowing me to take part in it.

I believe vision is something we have taken for granted in Australia. The ease of access to an optometrist, a free consult with the latest equipment, and an affordable pair of glasses to buy if required are things that aren’t readily available in most other countries, even in other first-world countries. This is something I believe Specsavers should be incredibly proud of, having brought accessibility and affordability to Australia.

Through the GHC tours, I feel I have grown as an optometrist, both in skill and maturity. I would definitely recommend participating in an outreach to any optometrist, whether it be locally or abroad. Using your skillset and knowledge to help those less fortunate is something that I can promise you will cherish forever.