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Clinic assesses vision needs of Syrian refugees

Toronto, September 12, 2016

By Maria Feldman

Tarek Bin Yameen prepares for his visit to the pilot clinic
Tarek Bin Yameen, a second-year medical student at the University of Toronto and co-investigator of the Syrian Newcomer Family Vision Screening Program, prepares for his visit to the pilot clinic. (Photo by Yuri Markarov)

Dr. Myrna Lichter, an ophthalmologist at St. Michael’s Hospital, and her medical student team have begun a pilot project to assess vision health of Syrian refugees and determine vision needs of this vulnerable population.

The first of eight planned pilot clinics was held at the Islamic Institute of Toronto this summer and more than 180 government-sponsored Syrian refugees attended to have their vision screened by volunteer optometrists and ophthalmologists.

Following recent work with the homeless population, Dr. Lichter’s team realized there was an urgent need to gather data about the vision care needs of other marginalized groups.

“We don’t have any data that clearly looks at the eye care needs of a refugee population in Canada; nothing has been published in the literature about this,” said Tarek Bin Yameen, a second-year medical student at the University of Toronto, and a refugee himself.

“The arrival of 25,000 Syrian refugees and this project represents a unique opportunity for us to close this knowledge gap and finally understand what the eye care needs of a refugee population in Canada are.”

One in four of the first screened refugees required followup appointments. In addition, four family members were diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an extremely rare but serious hereditary condition that causes severe vision impairment.

“These staggering figures reflect the unique and complex health-care challenges this community faces,” Bin Yameen said. “It’s of utmost importance to us that this vulnerable population receives appropriate followup care.”

Dr. Lichter said she hoped that her team could secure $35,000 of additional funding to continue facilitating the study over the coming months.

   
Did you know?
Retinitis pigmentosa is estimated to affect one in 3,500 people in the United States. There is no cure.

“St. Michael’s staff have done an incredible job in volunteering their time and expertise to this project,” said Dr. Lichter. “We are always looking for more volunteers and welcome all hands on deck.”

The Syrian Newcomer Family Vision Screening Program is conducted in partnership with Mes Amis, an organization dedicated to assisting Syrian refugees with settlement and assimilation.

St. Michael’s Hospital was also one of several health-care facilities in Toronto that participated in the Syrian Refugee Health Network to provide primary care for refugees from December 2015 to May. Dr. Ashna Bowry, lead physician for St. Michael's Hospital's Syrian Refugee Clinic, said they saw about 35 patients. St. Michael’s Family Health Team is now accepting referrals from the community.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.