Optiforum 3/2007 PDF Print E-mail

Kalahari clinics open eyes

The forgotten people on the edge of the Kalahari, who have had no access to eye care for more than a dozen years, can now see again thanks to the efforts and sponsorship of Ebony Optical, Hoya Hill Optics and Keith Reid Optometrists.

On the edge of the vast Kgalagadi desert in the Northern Cape, people – some of them San – are poor and largely unemployed in the small communities of Askham, Andriesvale and Welkom. Far from the main centres, they are without transport or money to visit the nearest optometrist at Upington more than 250 kilometres away. Now these marginalised people have got the eye care they deserve and will be receiving their spectacles in mid-June.


This was made possible through the efforts of Fish Hoek optometrist Keith Reid, who has visited the Kgalagadi


numerous times over the past 20 years. ‘I really feel for these people,’ he says. ‘It’s heartbreaking to see how poor and forgotten they are. I’ve had so much joy from the area that I decided to put something back.’


The result was five days of eye clinics, jointly sponsored by Ebony Optical, Hoya Hill Optics SA and Reid himself, who donated his time, expertise and some costs. Ebony donated modern, upmarket spectacle frames, and Hoya Hill sponsored the lenses and fitting. All of this was at no cost to the patients. 

Both Ebony’s Dean Norman and Hoya Hill’s Donald Currie were glad to contribute their company’s resources, noting that they were keen to be involved in such worthy efforts to help underprivileged people. Neither was concerned about putting a limit on the number of spectacles their companies would sponsor, offering to give ‘whatever is needed’. 

With the aid of an auto-refractor, Reid screened some 400 schoolchildren at primary schools in Askham and Welkom, prescribing where necessary, and examined a further 200 patients at clinics in Askham, Andriesvale and Welkom. The ‘clinics’ were sometimes half-broken buildings, even an army tent under a camelthorn tree. He prescribed 130 pairs of spectacles, which – without sponsorship – would have cost the patients in excess of R70 000. Thanks to the generosity of Ebony and Hoya Hill, the grateful patients paid not a single cent. Such was the demand for the service that some of the patients waited in the heat for hours before they could be seen.

Several people could unfortunately not be helped because of macular degeneration or cataracts, but those with cataracts or pathology were referred to Gordonia Hospital in Upington. Many others simply wanted to be able to do needlework or read the Bible. ‘It’s wonderful to see the broad smiles on their faces when they look through the trial frames for the first time,’ says Reid. ‘It’s as if a light has come on for them in the darkness.’

Numerous people in the area suffer from dry, burning eyes due to the sharp sunlight, extremely dry climate and windy conditions. In future, it is hoped to get sponsorship from a sunglasses supplier in order to help them.

It is also hoped to make these clinics an annual service so that some of the other remote areas that were not serviced this time around can benefit as well.


Previous sponsors

Basic Optical

Carl Zeiss Vision
Ebony Optical

Optic Trade Links

Trans Hex Group

Welch Allyn

Lee Daniels