The Optical Foundation is making eye care accessible through screenings, education and research.
The biggest cause of blindness worldwide is easily preventable by providing spectacles. Yet worldwide approximately 625 million people, of which around 84 million in Africa, are unnecessary blind or have bad sight, because they don’t have access to this relatively inexpensive solution.
The goal of The Optical Foundation is to make eye case accessible in the developing world through screening, education and research.
The optical foundation is a non-profit organisation, which was founded in 2004 with the mission of making eye care accessible for everyone in Ghana, especially for children. The Optical Foundation focuses specifically on children, because any untreated eye disorder can greatly impact their educational development and early detection can prevent illiteracy.
A child, who as a result of the screening is found to need glasses, can purchase these for a symbolic amount of 1 Euro from The Optical Foundation. Rather than giving the glasses for free, The Optical Foundation charges a means tested amount for the spectacles. The philosophy behind charging money for the glasses is: if something is given for free, then there is no real understanding of its value - thinking their glasses can easily be replaced at no cost, they may not treat the glasses with the required care, nor understand the importance of the screenings. In this processed, The Optical Foundation also contributes to and stimulates the local economy, by having the glasses made there.
The Optical Foundation does an extensive eye examination during their screenings. An eye test includes: visual acuity assessment, the refractive error and binocular vision measures, and assessment of the eyelids, cornea, crystalline lens, and the retina. The screenings are this extensive, as for many children this is their first ever eye examination.
Most children screened by us have healthy eyes, but there is a notable percentage who face severe eye problems. In the Netherlands, these eye defects are usually detected at the Early Childhood Centre, but since there are no such clinics in Ghana, we are often the first to detect serious eye defects. It is important to detect these eye disorders at an early age, as they are still treatable then. The longer one waits with treatment, the worse the prognosis.
Besides screening, The Optical Foundation also helps train Ghanaian optometry students of the University of Cape Coast to become good eye specialists in their own country, by getting them to perform eye tests under supervision in elementary schools, orphanages and other communities.
This gives the students extensive practical experience that will significantly expand their knowledge; which is an important element for their future career in Ghana.
Our focus is on ‘empowerment’ of women: By setting up all female screening teams, we are trying to break the cycle of the bias in the gender hierarchy. Currently The Optical Foundation has international (Dutch or Australian) volunteers who manager the project, however the objective is to make the project sustainable and self-sufficient. Therefore with this ultimate goal in mind, Ghanaian optometrists will be trained to become project leaders by our volunteers.
One day a week is be set-aside for our volunteers will teach at the University of Cape Coast, where they also supervise the clinic.
In 2014, The Optical Foundation started to establish scientific research in Ghana. We work with the Anglican Eye clinic in Jachie, a village near Kumasi. This eye clinic is lead by Sister Aba - a Ghanaian ophthalmic nurse - who has 25 staff members, including three optometrists. The eye clinic offers free eye care to the communities around Jachie.
The Optical Foundation is currently setting up the research with Sister Aba and the three optometrists. Research and publication in scientific journals will contribute to:
- ‘awareness’ with governmental institutions in Ghana and the Netherlands, which in the future could possible assist us when asking for government support.
- optometry in Ghana and The Optical Foundation scientifically making their mark. This will generate interest from industry and hopefully contribute to new investments in Ghana.
- the 'skill set' of optometrists in Ghana. Scientific research will offer a new challenge for the optometrists and will especially help to broaden their knowledge and career opportunities.
- education and research. These are important objectives of The Optical Foundation.
- eye care in Ghana. Collecting date for research shows how essential the work of The Optical Foundation is in Ghana.
- the professional development of The Optical Foundation and the personal development of our board members.
Nothing is as inspiring as attending a conference where professors from around the world passionately share insights into the latest developments in optometry. Unfortunately, for most Ghanaian optometrists/students it is not possible to attend such a conference. So therefore The Optical Foundation brings these professors to Ghana to inspire and motivate the optometrists/students. The experience is just as inspiring and rewarding for the visiting professors, as most of them have in fact never been in such countries as Ghana before, and in this way they can give something back to optometry where it is needed.
Although The Optical Foundation organises professors to visit Ghana, it is still a unique opportunity for Ghanaian optometrists to attend an international conference. The Optical Foundation helps optometry students in applying for ‘travel grants for optometrists in developing countries’, so they can attend an international conference. The knowledge gained from these conferences is then taken back to Ghana and shared with other teachers and students. It is a great way of getting new knowledge into Ghana.
The Optical Foundation was founded in 2004 by Arthur Alberts. He is an optometrist and owner of EYE CARE FOR YOU in Maastricht.
In 2004, Arthur’s enthusiasm was sparked to go along with a few board members of a Dutch organisation called “Loop naar de pomp” (translated: Walk to the pump) to visit a project they were working on in Ghana. On this visit he got to see how bad the eye care was in Ghana. Back in the Netherlands, Arthur decided that this had to be changed and with that ideal he founded The Optical Foundation, who were working at that time with a project in Ghana.
The Optical Foundation has since grown into a full-fledged foundation.