On the right, an ophthalmologist in a white lab coat and black and red striped polo shirt, looks intently at the display of a Canon Tonometer. On the other side of the machine, a patient holds their head against the machine, looking into it for their examination.

Providing eye care in the heart of Africa

"In 2020 in Central African Republic, there were an estimated 450,000 people with vision loss. Of these, 22,000 people were blind."

Source: The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB)

There are many causes of sight loss and impaired vision, but in the Central African Republic (CAR), the prevalence of glaucoma and cataracts is an emergency. Unfortunately, there is only one ophthalmologist in the whole of region and as well as diagnosing and treating patients, his time is spent training others. However, it makes no sense to train new eye care professionals if they subsequently do not have the tools to do their job.

In these circumstances second-hand equipment can be invaluable and is how products from Canon Medical Systems Europe have found their way into clinics at some of the world’s most impoverished countries. In Bangui, the capital of CAR, the ‘Mama Carla’ Clinic is surrounded by poverty and medical health care is almost non-existent, especially for the poorest groups. In Maputo, Mozambique, eye care suffers from low resourcing in a country that is battling against diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Two facilities in these regions have benefited from new additions to their clinic in the form of Canon’s R-30 Autorefractor, TX-20 Full Auto Tonometer, courtesy of Franco Sonnino, a long time Canon Medical distributor for Italy.

The founder, former CEO and President of FRASTEMA srl, Franco had been looking to channel his expertise differently after he retired. “The world was running too fast for me, with big evolutions in software, computer science and commercial issues,” he explains. “I started to look for new ways to be useful.” It was by lucky coincidence that he received a call from Amici per il Centrafrica (Friends of the Central African Republic), a voluntary organisation with a focus on healthcare and education, inviting him to help build a refracting room and install ophthalmology instruments in Bangui.

Two people in a green and white walled medical examination room. One sits in front of a machine, ready for an eye examination, the other is bent over and making notes.
Second-hand Canon equipment is supporting the efforts to screening patients in some of the poorest regions.
A man stands in front of a white wall, where three pictures are hanging. He wears black glasses and a navy-blue zip-up top, covered in logos, including UNICEF and Canon.
Franco Sonnino has been instrumental in bringing together the equipment needed by ophthalmologists in CAR and Mozambique.

Screening for glaucoma, cataracts and AIDS

Franco helps local ophthalmologists and opticians in CAR and Mozambique to provide basic eye care by collecting second-hand equipment from his former customers. However, while the most pressing eye conditions for the regions are glaucoma and cataracts (both of which can cause lower eyesight and blindness) in Mozambique, these instruments also help to diagnose and manage AIDS, which affects 60% of the population.

Installing the equipment was initially a challenge, but the centres are now up, running and already making a difference. “The centre is working well, and we are consigning good quantities of glasses,” Franco reports of the Bangui clinic. As well as the equipment from Canon, it is equipped with a chair and a stand refracting unit, a chart projector slit lamp and other refraction instruments. It is the Canon Tonometer, however, that has created a marked improvement in screening capacity for both adults and children. “With Canon's Tonometer, we’re getting closer to our goal of screening as many people as possible for glaucoma and cataracts,” explains Franco.

Franco plans to return to Bangui in February, to upgrade the mission and paediatric dispensary with new instruments and new staff for the clinic. He admits that there is still plenty to do and “a long and winding road” ahead, but between his work and that of local doctors, the team at Amici per il Centrafrica and corporate supporters, such as Canon Medical, he feels hopeful. “This wonderful company has always supported me in this nice adventure after my retirement from business.” he says. “I hope we can continue this fantastic cooperation.”

This article is kindly abstracted from Canon Medical Systems Europe VISIONS magazine #36.

Written by Written by Jacqueline de Graaf,

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