So yesterday was finally the day we have all being waiting for, the big launch of The Gambia Pilot!!
We arrived at the AFPRC General Hospital at 9am and started the set up. At around 10:30am GMT (Gambia Maybe Time) the opening ceremony started. We had representatives of the Ministery of Health, the CEO of the hospital, representatives of Sightsavers, community leaders, and our very own Jason Singh and Paul Case as distinguished guests. They all got the chance to explain their roles, and we also heard about the history of eye health in The Gambia. It was very inspiring to hear how they have nearly eliminated trachoma over the last 25 years – and how excited they are about partnering with OneSight to bring access to refractive error correction to the whole of The Gambia.
After the ceremony was completed our vision center staff, newly trained by our operations team, began to see our 20 optical leads. It was a beautiful sight, seeing that staff begin to put into practice the systems and processes they’d been training so hard in over the previous few days. In addition, the optical leads were able to experience the process firsthand, so they could actually have the real experience and then explain it properly to their respective villages. While that was a great first day, the real fun began this morning.
Today was our first official day with patients. We had many people waiting in line very patiently (women, men, children, elders…) and they were really well behaved all day. At one point we thought it would help to have something to entertain the kids. We got some pencils out and some pages for them to color, and they had a blast coloring with their parents. At the end of the day one of the kids proudly showed his picture to our staff and it was great…..and he even gave the pencil back!!!!
At the end of the day, everyone involved looked around with a bit of amazement. The numbers from today supported both the exhaustion and the elation many of us felt. A quick look into the stats:
- Our Vision Center staff saw 42 patients today, blowing away everyone’s expectations
- 7 pairs of glasses were purchased by 6 patients, with a total intake of 2,630 Dalasis
- Ousman, our optical technician (and general all-star), saw 10 patients today, doubling his single day total (set yesterday!)
- Out of the 10 people seen by Ousman, 6 purchased glasses today
- One man bought 2 pairs of glasses in the same exact style so he could have a back-up pair
- One woman received glasses last year from OneSight for free, but was thrilled this year to come and pay for a pair for herself.
- In two days the vision center staff has seen more patients than they average in a month’s time, and are still smiling and proud to do the work. Not a single one complained of being tired, asked to leave or take a break.
- Of the 42 patients seen, 4 were children
- 4 out of 6 of the patients who purchased glasses also purchased accessories such as lens cleaners, cases, and one upgraded to photochromic lenses.
- One man seeing Ousman shared that he had a broken pair of glasses he had purchased at a shop in Banjul, and he paid 11,000D for them. When he broke them, he went back to Banjul to get them fixed and they said they couldn’t fix them, but they tried to sell him another pair for 15,000D. He happily purchased his pair for 250D today.
- The clinic was full by 9:45am, and by 11 we couldn’t accept any more patients for the day. Many people continued to come, and all received tickets to return on an assigned day in the future.
- Many of the patients needed treatment for eye conditions as well as refractive error, and for the first time today both things were taken care of in one place.
- Everyday we’re learning from the vision center staff, and those learnings are being implemented everyday, and notes are being kept to streamline the process.
- Jeff (aka McGyver) has fixed everything at least twice, including our generator at 3am so we could have some air conditioning.
One story that touched many of us was a young woman who came in with his father. After we checked her vision we found she had completely lost any chance of being able to see again, but we also knew that if she had had treatment five years ago she would have been able to keep her sight. It cemented in many of us the urgency with which we will work to bring access to The Gambia, knowing that what we are building today will prevent this things to happen in the future.
Finally, its been so fun to develop deep ties with The Gambians we’re working alongside. One of our nurses walks about 40 minutes everyday to come to work, and she does it proudly. Our operations team went to her house tonight upon her invitation to meet her family. They had a lovely time, and it reinforced for us that these people are actually the ones operating the vision care center, and they really want to help their own people (and are proud of doing it).
It was a great (and tiring) day for all of us, but certainly one we will remember for a long time.
Buenas noches! Magda