In august 2018, Terre Sans Frontières (TSF) led its first eye health care mission in aid of refugees. Optometrist Dr Pierre Lavallée and optician Mrs Darquise Tardif went to the Republic of the Congo to provide this care to people who fled theCentral African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Undera mandate from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), TSF has overseen the healthcare of 57,000 refugees in the Republic of the Congo since2015.
The mission entrusted to Dr Pierre Lavallée and Mrs Darquise Tardif began at the IntegratedHealth Centre (IHC) in Bétou, a town in the northern part of the country, wheret hey treated more than 280 people; most were from refugee camps, but some were locals. They performed eye exams and gave prescription glasses to those who needed them, and also distributed sunglasses as a preventive measure. As well, they diagnosed several people with more specific conditions, including cataracts.
“The visual health of people from refugee camps is particularly at risk,and many pathologies stem from difficult living conditions that result in injuries or dietary deficiencies,” says Darquise Tardif. “The needs are vast. It’s difficult to meet every expectation; each action makes a difference,” says Pierre Lavallée.
In addition to providing care, the optometrist and optician also gave training on eye disease detection and eye hygiene to some 30 healthcare professionals from TSF, the host country and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) working in the region.
The team then travelled to the capital, Brazzaville, where around 40 urban refugees also received treatment for various vision problems. “The people of Bétou and the surrounding area are breathing a sigh of relief. The village has never experienced anything like the wonderful care provided by the Optométristes SansFrontières team. It’s one of the greatest gifts these refugees have ever received,” said Dr. Raphael Dimoke, Physician and Coordination Assistant at the Bétou IHC.
Optométristes Sans Frontières’s (OSF) first humanitarian aid intervention was also anopportunity for Quebec health professionals to take part in a UNHCR program, aswell as enjoy an enriching and safe experience thanks to a warm welcome from the people of the Republic of the Congo and the professionalism of the field health team supervised by Dr. Modibo Togora, Medical Coordinator for the TSF-HCR program.
“Given the refugees’ precarious situation, the assistance provided by TSF and its volunteer cooperants is essential. I wholeheartedly encourage my colleagues to participate in a mission like this,” said Pierre Lavallée.