EyeSite, September 2008 PDF Print E-mail

Free eye care for the Kalahari

Following the success of eye clinics in three remote Kalahari communities last year, the service was extended this year to another five areas. All thanks to the efforts and sponsorship of Ethix Eyewear, Hoya-Hill Optics, Optical Trade Links, Carl Zeiss, Welch Allyn and Keith Reid Optometrists.


“Which frame would you like, the blue, red or black?” “It doesn’t matter, if only I can see through them,” comes the response.

This is life at its most basic here on the edge of the Northern Cape’s vast Kalahari desert, where poverty and unemployment are rife and people have neither transport nor money to visit the nearest optometrist at Upington, more than 300 kilometres away.


Last April, the small communities of Askham, Andriesvale and Welkom benefited from free eye care clinics. Now more than 500 people in the settlements of Rietfontein, Philandersbron, Loubos, Groot Mier and Klein Mier have been touched by the same miracle.

This is thanks to the efforts of Fish Hoek

optometrist Keith Reid, and sponsorship from Ethix Eyewear (who donated spectacle frames), Hoya Hill Optics SA (who sponsored the lenses and fitting), Optical Trade Links and Carl Zeiss (who supplied spectacle cases), and Welch Allyn (who donated a rechargeable lithium ion handle for a retinoscope).  

With the aid of an auto-refractor, Reid examined some 520 patients, including 200 schoolchildren, referring 30 patients, mainly for lens implants, and prescribing 210 pairs of spectacles. Without sponsorship, the cost of these spectacles would have been more than R90 000 – way beyond the reach of patients whose poverty usually makes their only choice to go without. Thanks to the sponsors’ generosity, they paid nothing.  

Stories of heartbreak abound. One old woman with a very mature cataract cried quietly into a hankie because she needs a lens implant but when her other eye was operated on three years ago she lost her vision in that eye completely so she was scared.  

But joy comes after long hardship too. An agitated 64-year-old wouldn’t respond to Reid’s questions properly, just repeating, “I’m blind; my whole family is blind.” With a minus 7 diopter refraction and high astigmatism, she certainly wasn’t seeing the world very clearly. But with her script in the trial frame she couldn’t believe the magic of normal vision; she was so excited that she kept reading off the whole eye chart – despite repeated attempts to stop her. Then she walked into the corridor outside to see her friends and neighbours clearly for first time in her life, accompanied by much hilarity on both sides. She said she’d struggled at school because she couldn’t see. When asked if she’d never had glasses, she replied simply, “We are very poor.”

With 16 separate free clinics in remote areas under his belt, Reid hopes to take these clinics to other poor communities in the Northern and Western Cape soon. This will depend on further sponsorship for items such as lenses, frames, fuel and accommodation.


Previous sponsors

Basic Optical

Carl Zeiss Vision
Ebony Optical

Optic Trade Links

Trans Hex Group

Welch Allyn

Lee Daniels