Skip to content

Photo Competition Stories: Eye care in Ethiopia

Published: 08.10.2018


The World Sight Day Photo Competitions have attracted a lot of quality submissions from around the world; each with a story to tell. This post is about Graham Coates’ assignment with Vision Aid Overseas in Ethiopia. The pictures and inputs have been provided by Graham – Thank you Graham!

Farmers sitting under the shade of a tree a North Ethiopian rural health clinic waiting for eye tests
Farmers waiting their turn to get their vision screened/ Photo courtesy: Graham Coates

In a North Ethiopian rural health clinic, large numbers of rural farmers can be seen standing under the tree shade. Some of them reside in villages nearby while several of them have travelled distances as far as 300 kms away to be here. All of them are awaiting their turn to get their vision screened. For the screening to take place there is a system in place. While getting registered, a preliminary assessment of their vision is done by hanging an eye chart on a tree.

The doctors doing the screening are part of a Vision Aid Overseas (VAO) mission, a UK based charity that does extensive work in Africa. One of the doctors doing the screening is Graham Coates; a UK based optometrist with his own practice in Hampshire, England. Graham has been volunteering with Vision Aid Overseas the past 16 years and undertook this trip in 2015.

After the preliminary assessment, the patients join another queue to get a comprehensive eye check-up and to establish if they need spectacles. A pair is provided to them straightaway, or their details taken to manufacture a more accurate pair.

On these missions, the Vision Aid Overseas team are equipped with stocks of ready-made spectacles for near vision and get the other prescriptions made at the nearest Vision centre. “These are walk in facilities, normally based in each provisional centre.” All the necessary equipment to manufacture spectacles is provided by them.

Patients sitting on a bench waiting for an eye test
Part of another queue/ Photo courtesy: Graham Coates

Graham has travelled with Vision Aid Overseas to African countries like Ethiopia, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Uganda and Sierra Leone. Each of the trips differs but consist of a team of 4-6 UK based optometrists. They last about two weeks and sometimes the numbers that turn up at the screenings are so big that people have to return the next day for their turn.

On these trips, tailors, farmers, carpenters, tradesman; people of all ages and from different walks of life queue up to get spectacles to improve their vision, so huge is the need.

In their missions with Vision Aid Overseas, they have two types of projects: direct outreach ones where they reach out to large rural population that haven’t accessed any eye care before. The other projects major on the training of in-country optical personnel. “In Zambia these are often ophthalmic nurses, who are upskilling to add refraction expertise. In Ethiopia, we have helped establish University courses, training local Optometrists. The trainees often accompany us on our outreach projects.”

Graham enjoys photography especially capturing images of the work they do and the difference it makes. He does it as a hobby with Vision Aid Overseas using his pictures to highlight their efforts. You can see more of his pictures on his website.

About the photo competition

IAPB runs the World Sight Day photo competition with support from Bayer. Participation in the competition is open worldwide to professional and amateur photographers.

The World Sight Day #EyeCareEverywhere Photo Competition is still going strong! We’re loving your submissions so please keep them coming. The competition prizes: USD 1000 for the Pro winner and a DSLR camera for the Amateur winner are still up for grabs. Send us your photos  before World Sight Day (11th October 2018).

Upload your photos here –