A commitment to helping communities locally and overseas inspired a team of 25 students from the Singapore Polytechnic Optometry School to help over 2000 villagers during a two week vision care mission to Myanmar, supported by the Essilor Vision Foundation. Litnus Gasper, a Year 3 student, shares his experiences on the challenges of providing primary eye care to a country where 32% of the population live below the poverty line.

With abundant natural resources and a young labor force (87% of the population under the age of 55), Myanmar remains one of the poorest countries in Asia with little improvement so far to living standards, despite foreign investment. Health services, particularly vision care, rarely reach into rural areas where the majority of people live. In September, students from Singapore Polytechnic led by 2 lecturers embarked on an outreach program in three areas (Pathein, Maubin, Yangon) across the lowland river basin in south west Myanmar.

By prescribing people in Myanmar with the appropriate glasses, we were able to improve their vision but also their quality of life.

“I had done some local community services, but wanted to experience the challenges of contributing in a less developed country than Singapore, for example, to see how to conduct vision screening with limited resources. The people in Myanmar, especially those living in rural areas, do not have access to primary eye care services. Most of them are unable to see clearly due to uncorrected refractive errors and cataracts. By prescribing them with the appropriate glasses or treatment, we were able to improve their vision but also their quality of life.”

Over the 14 days spent in Myanmar, the students screened over 2000 villagers and gave out 1300 pairs of glasses – reading, prescription and sunglasses that were provided by the Essilor Vision Foundation. For many the benefits were immediate: children could learn properly in school and older people who were struggling to see, could interact with their communities again.

This experience was a real eye opener – for the villagers and also for us

“It was a real eye opener – for the villagers and also for us. There were cases that one rarely sees in Singapore. For example, five days in, we saw a lady with a corneal ulcer whose eye was badly infected and who was referred to the eye hospital immediately. With no eye care services locally, there was no one to give professional advice and prevent the ulcer worsening and causing damage to other parts of the eye. I realized how fortunate we are to have our health care system in Singapore.”

Giving and sharing have no boundaries

“The whole expedition was tiring but rewarding, even though the weather was hot and often hundreds of people were waiting to be screened. Villagers from Kyar Yone village invited us to their homes, sharing their life stories with us and walking us out all the way to the entrance of their village to bid farewell.  Although there were only a few translators, this did not stop us from performing refraction and prescribing them with spectacles. Nor stop them from showing their happiness and gratitude – coming to each of us to shake hands when they received their glasses. Giving and sharing have no boundaries.”