This past May, our optometrist, Dr. Jennifer Sablad, had the opportunity to travel to the Philippines for 1 week on a medical mission through See The Lord, a non-profit organization founded by her friend and colleague, Dr. Kelly Kao. This trip marked Dr. Sablad’s fourth visit to the Philippines, but her first as volunteer doctor. Thanks to many generous donors, Dr. Sablad and her team were able to raise over $5000 towards the purchase of frames, lenses, reading glasses, eye drops, and other supplies that were used to provide vision care and prepare care packages for the Caloocan region of Manila. Operating from a make-shift clinic in the local church, Dr. Sablad and a team of 3 other optometrists (plus 30 clinicians and volunteers from the nearby parish and university) examined around 450 patients in 2 days. Nearly all of them were fit with new glasses, many for the first time. Patients with suspicious eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, or lid or retinal disease were referred to local ophthalmologists for further evaluation and treatment.
For those unfamiliar with medical missions, eye exams on a typical trip are quite different than ones you would experience at our clinics here in the US. To keep things flowing and to be able to accommodate so many patients, various “stations” are set up where patients are first checked in and screened for their medical history. Then, their vision is measured through refraction with hand-held lenses and frames versus the recognizable phoropter that patients look through during the “Which is better? 1 or 2?” test. Patients are then evaluated for potential disease using anything from a simple penlight and magnifying lenses to a fully functioning slit lamp. Dr. Sablad’s team was fortunate enough to have a slit lamp loaned to them by one of the local clinics. While many missions collect donated glasses beforehand to distribute to patients, Dr. Kao was able to establish connections with other doctors and optical labs in the Philippines so that the patients on this mission could receive brand new prescription glasses. Needless to say, the patients were excited to finally be seeing well!
Many of the townspeople seen on this mission were from a neighborhood known as Bagoong Barrio, an inner city slum of Manila known for poverty, crime, drugs, and gang violence. A typical “home” in this area is a 6×8 ft room that often houses 10 or more family members. Sleeping often occurs in shifts to accommodate these large households; children are often found roaming the streets at night while their parents rest after laboring all day selling fabric scraps, running small shops and eateries, or driving pedi-cabs. The average income of the patients in this neighborhood is around $50 USD per month, if they are fortunate enough to be employed. Despite these economic and social hardships, the people of Caloocan were very warm, welcoming, and appreciative of the support.
Dr. Sablad also participated in a lecture series for the Deans of the Optometry Schools in the Philippines. She and her colleagues prepared and delivered talks on a range of topics including contact lenses, pediatrics, diabetes, and binocular vision. She was also able to collaborate with the deans and other local doctors on how to develop and enhance the current optometry curriculum in the Philippines.
The end of Dr. Sablad’s visit was marked by a farewell party hosted by her relatives, where she was able to socialize with family and delight in the local cuisine. Then it was off to the airport for the long flight home. All in all, it was memorable and rewarding experience!