Vt. eye doctors travel to Gambia for pediatric vision help

Vermont doctors have a clear vision of how to help kids in The Republic of Gambia.
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 5:59 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont doctors have a clear vision of how to help kids in The Republic of Gambia. University of Vermont experts are heading over to the country to give medical advice and treatment in all things ophthalmology.

The trips began in 2018 when UVM ophthalmologists took a tour of The Republic of Gambia and its vision centers. They noticed there were limited vision services for kids and ophthalmology infrastructure in the country. Now, UVM ophthalmologists and experts at the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired will be returning and are setting their sights on making a change.

“We decided we could focus on that we could make an impact that nobody else was really doing there,” said Dr. Jeffrey Young of UVM. Young and Dr. Sujata Singh are two members of a larger team of Vermont medical experts. They say there’s a gap specifically in pediatric eye care and that the trip includes vision screening for hundreds of youth aged three to seven, and even some of their teachers.

“Expand vision health care to children in the developing world because you have to choose your resources --and you have limited resources -- and you have to choose where you send them and oftentimes children aren’t a part of that,” said Singh.

They say they’ve found some children need glasses to see better and avoid amblyopia, or a lazy eye, which they say is preventable if they’re given the correct treatment. And they’re not just looking to help patients, they’re looking to create a systemic change by meeting with government officials in the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health.

“Our goal, in the end, is to help implement a countrywide policy where children with vision problems are identified and treated, if that’s the appropriate pathway for them,” said Young.

The doctors say a long-term objective is to help create a policy where every child is screened at least once a year. There’s also a training program to increase the number of specialists and regional eye care centers in the area. Once the people are screened, the goal would be for them to be referred to their regional eye care center to get adequate care. Vermont vision experts have already established some of these eye care centers and are always looking to expand.

“We’re hoping it’ll get bigger, than that they’ll have more teachers at the visually impaired school there and maybe even outside of the one school for the visually impaired, which is in the capital city of Banjul,” said Singh.

The mission has cost thousands of dollars over the years and it’s self-funded by grants and other fundraisers.