x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A new vision for the nation's old glasses

A Dubai optometrist is helping people in Kenya and Syria see clearly for the first time, thanks in part to her customers.

DUBAI // A Dubai optometrist is helping people in Kenya and Syria see clearly for the first time, thanks in part to her customers. Soroya Janmohamed, the British manager of Capital Opticians, has been holding regular "eye camps" in her home country for more than 15 years. Last year, she launched a national appeal asking people to donate their old spectacles, or even sunglasses, in return for a free eye check-up. The frames were then used to make glasses for those who needed them in the camps.

More than 314 million people worldwide suffer from seriously impaired vision. Of these, 124 million live in developing countries. "That old forgotten pair of glasses somewhere in your drawer can make all the difference for someone too poor to even think of ever buying a pair to see clearly," said Mrs Janmohamed. So far, she has collected 900 old frames, and hopes to collect more before heading out to Kenya and Syria in autumn, where she will hold eye camps for two days, giving free sight checks and consultations and providing those who need them with properly prescribed glasses.

"If you could only see that smile that comes on their face when they can finally see the world around them with someone's discarded pair of glasses," she said. "It leaves you with a great feeling inside." According to the World Health Organisation, 153 million people have impaired vision due to refractive errors. In most cases, their eyesight could be corrected with glasses. Mrs Janmohamed has been holding regular eye camps in Kenya for more than 15 years, each time she goes there to visit her family. Last year she decided to visit another country, and opted for Syria. "People don't realise just how poor some of the places are in Syria, and just how much people need glasses there to improve the standard of their living," she said.

She set up two-day camps in both Hama and Salamaih with more than 20 volunteers and Dr Morhaf al Hamwi, a local ophthalmologist. More than 3,000 people showed up, many bearing fruit baskets and traditional sweets. "There were so many children and elderly there waiting in line to have their eyes checked. Many of them, once they got their glasses, started to cry as they could finally see what the world really looks like."

The team also took a slit-lamp microscope, to help diagnose the more serious eye diseases. "Most of the cases suffered from short-sightedness, and some had conjunctivitis due to improper hygiene, with a few families exhibiting rare genetic eye disorders, such as blepharophimosis." Mrs Janmohamed said the demand they found in Syria had prompted her to return. "There is just such great need out there, and not enough time and glasses."

The cost of the eye camp in Syria was about US$10,000 (Dh37,000), while in Kenya it was about US$4,000. She is determined to keep up with the eye camps for another 10 years. "While it is small scale, every bit matters," she said. "An adult can find a better job, and a child can do better in school, and that is because of better eyesight. A pair of old glasses can change someone's life." rghazal@thenational.ae