...Over the next four days we were welcomed back into the local church family, set up and ran a clinic, serving over 100 people (you may have read about it in Part 1 of this blog). One of the main purposes of our trip was to review the building that will one day become our first permanent clinic. We knew that this would be towards the end of the trip, and with just two days remaining, we were running out of time to do much more. However, our ever-resourceful hosts, Bishop Edward Buria and his wife, Fridah, had other plans. Following a successful visit to the proposed clinic building, encouraged that the redevelopment work would soon begin, they drove us to the Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital.
As ever, our well-respected and well-networked Kenyan partners had opened doors for SeeKenya, and we found ourselves in a meeting with the Hospital Director and several other members of his senior management team. We were given a tour of their eye care facility, currently being upgraded with investment from a large international eye care charity. We learned a lot about their procedures and capabilities, meeting with members of the clinical team. Once again, the opportunities of possible partnerships were discussed, with the potential to extend our own capacity and refer people for surgical and more complex treatments.
Visiting these hospitals was eye-opening for me. I live in a country with one of the most advanced and well-provisioned healthcare services ever created and my experience of medical care outside of Western Europe is very limited. Some of the facilities I saw reminded me more of what was the norm 50 or so years ago in the UK – picture the BBC TV series Call the Midwife. It was clear that patients were being treated well, and to the best of the care-givers’ abilities but it was a helpful reminder that SeeKenya’s highly trained and experienced optometrists bring a different standard of eye care with them. Certain tests and approaches that are commonplace in the UK, tests that pick up on underlying problems or help prevent additional problems occurring, are not known by every eye care practitioner in Kenya. This presents us with both opportunities and challenges – we can help introduce such procedures and even teach them, but we have to be very discerning about any partnerships, to ensure that our safety and quality standards are met. We have, in the past, become aware of some poor quality treatment that our patients have experienced, tragically, where some have been left worse off. Our vision to deliver quality eye care for everyone will prevent this.
As our final day arrived and the long drive (roughly seven hours) lay ahead of us, we received news that a meeting with the Lions SightFirst Eye Hospital had been arranged (again by our well-connected hosts). With our spirits lifting up our tired bodies we wondered what this connection could possibly mean. This is one of the best (if not the very best) eye care hospitals in Africa – a facility we already trust many of our patients to.
Once again, we were treated like royalty, and were hosted by the Hospital’s Chairman and senior management. On top of the delicious curry (it felt a little rude to go back for more, despite being encouraged to do so) we were invited to present our operation to them and then given a tour. Their facility encompasses optometry, surgery and spectacle production, and is as good as any you’ll see in the UK. What’s more, they will find a way to treat anyone who needs it. We discovered that we share many values and standards – solid common ground from which to build a strong relationship. We were so impressed by their facilities and their heart to see lives changed by giving people quality eye care that we dared to hope about forming a partnership with them. Nothing, however, prepared us for their parting comment - as we were about to leave they offered to come and visit our next clinic, with a view to working together…
As we travelled back to the UK, we were all a bit stunned by what we’d seen and done, and who we’d met and connected with. As ever, our expectations of the trip were insignificant compared with reality – but our hopes were high that our vision for accessible eye care across Kenya could one day be reality too.
Written by Andy Heald, SeeKenya