Avera Medical Minute: Providing Eye Care for Those in Need

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. Ninety percent of all vision impairments occur in developing nations. But, 80% are treatable with simple solutions, according to Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity or VOSH.

That's where VOSH comes in. Two Avera optometrists who are part of this volunteer group made it their mission to help those in need.

"We go kind of the same place every year it's Gomez Palacio, Mexico," Dr. Paul Draayer, Avera optometrist, said. "We're helping approximately 1,800 people when we go each year. So, it's quite a mission."

Dr. Draayer completed his first mission trip back in 2015.

"Well, the first time you don't know what to expect, you know, so you're going there, and you're just like your eyes are wide open trying to experience everything and try to figure everything," he said.

Now, four years later, Dr. Draayer has brought his practice to the country of Mexico three different times.

"People there tend not to get eye care very often, and so you typically see new patients every time you go," he said. "Just because it's such a need that it's pretty rare to see repeat patients."

Dr. Draayer isn't the only Avera optometrist to help with VOSH. Dr. Gregory Hill began his mission trips back in college and continues them today. He is inspired by supporting the communities of Mexico and Jamacia.

"For these people, it's life-transforming because if you're an adult working for your family you have your job and doing your trade and often taking care of your parents in the same household," Dr. Hill said. "You reach middle-age at a point where we all are going to start having problems with our up-close vision and if you don't have access to eye care or even store-bought glasses you can reach a point where you are visually disabled."

Every year VOSH has a mission trip to Mexico and every two years to Jamaica - to help do screenings and health evaluations. They have now brought the mission to the state offering assistance to both Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations.

"There are not enough optometrists that they can even recruit to work at the clinics and the optical that they used to have is no longer open," he said. "And so, there has to be some other source of eye care for them."

Collecting glasses with the help of the Lions Club and by asking patients to bring them to any eye care clinic, the glasses are then cleaned and reused to provide eyesight to patients they meet on their missions.

"The glasses that started out in your living room end up in the living room of somebody in a developing nation," Dr. Hill said.

With Avera, the optometrists and other staff are encouraged to continue to participate in missions.

The need is not only for doctors, but others who can sort or help fit glasses. You do not need any eye care training to get involved with VOSH.

For more information, you can visit avera.org.