By Sarah McGoldrick
Canadians are known around the world as being leaders in providing resources and care to those in need.
A team of Canadian eyecare providers (ECPs) are continuing this tradition through the Canadian Vision Care program (CVC).
The team, founded by Gerry Leinweber, Gord Hensel, Andy Patterson and Brad Almond began their journey in 1979 while Andy and Gerry were interning in Jamaica as students attending the University of Waterloo School of Optometry.
When the project they were working with was cancelled, the group decided to carry on at the request of the Lions Club of Montego Bay.
“It was a pretty big job but we decided to do it right and create a charity,” said Leinweber, adding out of this CVC was born.
The group started small raising money, awareness and offering eye exams and surgery to those in need in a variety of locations including returning to Jamaica this past December, Costa Rica and parts of Africa.
Since then the organization has done more than $60 million worth of work supported through fundraising events such as golf tournaments and private donations.
The team continues to recruit for the program as well as see exceptional support from across the industry.
This has allowed them to make regular trips to areas in desperate need of resources and medical support from very basic care to more serious solutions.
The break down generally runs 80 per cent eye exams and 20 per cent surgery. The team is working to help those in the developing world better understand the importance of eyecare and preventative care.
One of the most common and preventable ailments the team treats on a regular basis is glaucoma.
“These populations tend to have seven times the normal levels of glauncoma,” he said.
Leinweber noted that through simple education it is easy to reduce these numbers and prevent unnecessary sight loss.
Through the building of optometry schools, CVC is helping to educate the next generation of eyecare providers who will be able to treat and help the people of their own country.
Leinweber adds he hopes the program will help prevent the ‘brain drain’ in many of the countries they visit who often see people leave to study in other countries and not come back.
“In Canada there is 7,500 people for every one eye doctor. In some of these countries there are 270,000 people for every one eye doctor,” he said.
To achieve this goal of increasing eyecare professionals in these regions and provide desperately needed care, Leinweber has called upon eyecare providers, surgeons and industry suppliers to provide assistance and support.
This has included performing eye exams, surgeries, providing lenses and frames and providing an educational opportunities for students from Canada who have also participated in the program.
One of the most active participants in the program has been Dr. Allan Jones of Alberta who has travelled to Malawi on many occasions to help set up an optometry school in a country where no practising optometrist was located.
In an interview with CTV Jones said the work being done by CVC is truly life changing for all involved.
“I try to tell people, if you can’t see more than a few inches in front of you, how would that affect your life?”
He noted there were thousands of people living in the country who were considered blind who simply didn’t have access to care.
To help curb this problem,he donated the funds to build an optometry academy that will train students to become fully licensed optometrists.
To some it may seem like a huge investment, but to Jones, it is the only way to ensure that those who need care receive it and no one is left behind because they cannot see.
“A child could be the next future president, but may not be because he can’t get glasses,” he said.
To learn more about the program and how you can support CVC visit www.canadianvisioncare.com. •
By Sarah McGoldrick