Skip to main content

Optometry staff and students provide vision and hope to communities in Malawi

5 September 2023

Optometry staff and students travelling to Malawi in an airport - all standing together
Optometry staff and students travelling to Malawi

A team of 10 student optometrists and 5 researchers and academics recently spent 2 weeks helping the rural communities of Malawi by setting up several outreach eye care clinics in small health centres and village halls.

In just 5 days, the team conducted over 1500 sight tests and distributed over 600 pairs of spectacles. Additionally, they helped diagnose various pathologies and sourced essential medications from local pharmacies for those in need.

The trip was led by Pete Hong (Teaching Associate) and supervised by Sharon Beatty (Teacher), Vikki Baker (Teaching Associate), and Professor Barbara Ryan (Deputy Head of the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences).

Pete Hong said:

"Optometry students have the chance to engage in overseas volunteering trips as part of their studies which is made possible through Taith bursaries and fundraising students undertake themselves.

Students have been participating in overseas projects with me for over 20 years, initially in Eastern Europe and later in Africa, they have all been amazing and always exceed my expectations."

Female eye care patient in Malawi smiling and wearign glasses, with another woman
Eye care patient in Malawi

Improving children's quality of life

The team also visited an orphanage where they conducted eye tests for the children and provided spectacles to those who needed them, significantly enhancing their educational opportunities and overall quality of life.

Optometry student, Eve Barrett said: “The day at the orphanage was our favourite. We were instantly met with the warm smiles of many happy children. The children’s home was lovely, complete with playgrounds, lots of open space and painted buildings.

We tested the eyesight of lots of children that day and provided spectacles and low vision aids to those who needed them.”

Training ophthalmologists

The trip involved spending two days at the Lions Sight First Eye Hospital in Blantyre where they had the opportunity to train some of the registrar ophthalmologists in Malawi.

The students witnessed firsthand the positive impact of knowledge exchange and collaboration and were able to observe several eye operations and procedures.

Training ophthalmologists in Malawi, four surgeons undergoing a procedure
Watching ophthalmologists in Malawi

Optometry student, Sophie Allcock said: “Getting to pass on our own knowledge felt really special and now knowing that the ophthalmologists in Blantyre can accurately assess visions and prescriptions of patients is amazing.”

As well as their dedicated work, they also took the opportunity to explore the beauty of Malawi, including a two-day safari. Here they were fortunate enough to witness inspiring sights such as wild lions, elephants, cheetahs and hippos.

“We sat in the open air, listening to the sounds of the animals and watched some of the best sunsets we have ever seen.”

Fundraising support

The generous fundraising and support for the trip has so far:

  • Funded over 200 cataract operations
  • Provided over 600 adults and children with a pair of spectacles
  • Donated an ICare Tonometer to measure intraocular pressure to the Lions Sight First Eye Hospital in Blantyre
  • Provided low vision aids to the practitioners in the hospital to prescribe for people with a visual impairment
  • Funded a year's worth of Riboflavin for cross-linking surgery
  • Given over 150 children in an orphanage at least one item of clothing
  • Contributed to an MSc for an optometrist from Blantyre
  • Funded treatment for individuals with various other eye diseases, changing lives for the better.

This video is a selection of photos and videos taken of the trip to Malawi by the students who had a truly life changing experience.

Another team of staff and students from the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences recently embarked on a mission to Ghana. They organised four outreach days, two hospital visits and a CPD day. Their mission also helped hundreds of people with visual impairment who may not have otherwise been able to access suitable treatment.

We extend our heartfelt appreciation to all the generous contributors who provided funding, equipment, staff time, or monetary donations to support our mission:

Gareth and Julie, Coles Opticians, Cardiff and the Vale University Health Board Charity, Erasmus+, Essilor, HOYA, James Morris, Kay Marsh, N Loyd-Thomas Opticians, Mary Perkins, Monnow Eyecare, Robert Winlow, Rotary Clubs- Usk Cardiff, Mold, Newport Uskmouth and Wrexham, Sight Cymru, Specsavers Chester, Taith, Zeiss.

Share this story