Meeting Vision Care Needs in Peten

In May 2016, Optometrist Dr Christine Chmielewski returned to Peten to teach the eye course to the new student CHWs and to perform retinal exams on the diabetic patients cared for by the program. Christine was again assisted by her daughter/translator, Julie Smith, a graduate student in speech pathology.

“The most gratifying thing to teach the CHWs about is how to prescribe reading glasses,” says Dr. Chmielewski. “We can meet the visual needs of about 80% of the adults in the communities with a simple pair of reading glasses. Many older people who thought they were ‘going blind’ are thrilled to see the newspaper, the bible and their sewing again!”

Life in rural Peten involves chopping wood, cooking over open fires and riding in the backs of trucks. As a result it is not uncommon for patients to come to the clinic because of a painful foreign body lodged in their eye. During the training course, Dr. Christine provided the CHWs with magnifiers and flashlights and taught them how to remove foreign bodies. The class also covered detection and treatment of infections and other eye diseases, and referral to the eye clinic in San Benito, when necessary.

Whenever she is in town, Dr. Christine dilates the eyes of the diabetic patients to evaluate for diabetic changes. As always, the CHWs are included at every step. It is a strength of the program that the patients and the CHWs can be given feedback together on the condition of the eye so that they can work to manage the condition together!