Team brings vision for eye care to Île-à-la-Crosse
Indigenous Children Eye Examination program makes first trip to Saskatchewan
For residents of northern Saskatchewan, getting an eye exam usually involves a long drive to the optometrist's office.
But this past weekend, a group of eye care professionals got on a plane to bring their work to Île-à-la-Crosse, about 460 kilometres north of Saskatoon.
It was the first time a site in Saskatchewan hosted the Indigenous Children Eye Examination program, an Ontario-based project where volunteer health professionals provide eye care to children in remote communities.
The clinic in Île-à-la-Crosse came about through partnership with Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, said Dr. Kourosh Sabri, an ophthalmologist and associate professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.
"I have to say Saskatchewan, and in particular Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, has been very receptive to our call for co-operation," he told host Garth Materie on CBC radio's Afternoon Edition. "It's really been the desire from Métis Nation-Saskatchewan that has led us to this point of having the first trip."
Sabri said the team that travelled to Île-à-la-Crosse included six eye care professionals from Saskatoon who volunteered their time — three optometrists, an optician and two eye technicians.
The trip was made possible through a donation from the Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation, which is also funding the eyeglasses that were prescribed for the children on the weekend.
"We make them in a lab and then we send them directly to the community and we track every pair of glasses to make sure they end up in the right hands of the child," he said.
Sabri made his first trip to provide eye care in northern Ontario about six years ago. He said it became very apparent that there is a big gap in eye care for Indigenous children in northern communities.
Typically, about half the children his teams see have poor vision.
"But the good part is that the solution is really very simple. They just need glasses," he said.
A team travelling to a community removes one of the biggest barriers families face — the time and expense of a trip south.
Mervin "Tex" Bouvier, the area director for Northern Region 3 with Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, said it can be a challenge for parents to get their children to eye examinations.
"You know, the bills are so high, the power bill so high, the rent so high, everything so high, the food, and so it's hard," Bouvier said. "The challenges are there with eye care with Métis children."
An eye examination is so important for children, Bouvier said, especially if it's "a little bit sooner than later."
Sabri wants to see more frequent trips to more communities.
"I cannot emphasize enough the importance of good eye care in the early years of a child's development," Sabri said. "If they do not see well, they will not do well in their education and in their development, and that will really create problems for the whole development and long-term success of that child."
With files from the Afternoon Edition