On Feb 15 – 26, 2010 an expedition of Polish ophthalmologists to Algeria and West Sahara took place. The aim of the expedition was to save the sight of refugees from West Sahara occupied by Morocco. The situation of those inhabitants living in exile for over 40 years is very hard. They do not have electricity, running water or work. They only survive due to humanitarian aid from abroad. In order to keep the memory of their fate the Sahara Marathon is organized every year. The Marathon route passes through their land. In 2008 Mariusz Szeib, a Past Governor of District 121 Poland, took part in the Sahara Marathon. As a member of organization involved in the charity events aimed at helping poor sight impaired people (Campaign Sight First II) he decided to help the inhabitants of Saharawi who he felt huge sympathy for.
He invited for cooperation doctor Rafał Nowak from the Ophthalmology Ward at Józefa Strus City Hospital at Szwajcarska Street in Poznan who had some experience in the developing countries (Nepal). The group of doctors consisted of Rafal Nowak, MD, Maciej Matuszyński, MD – ophthalmologist from the same ward and a traveling lover, and Settaf Cherif Boucharay, a surgeon from the hospital in Żnin who comes from Sahara originally. He agreed to help organize consultations in Africa and worked as an interpreter.
During their trip the doctors not only reached the refugee camps around Tindouf in Algeria but also to the free land of West Sahara controlled by the Polisario army. They helped hundreds of people, they distributed free medication and performed surgeries (a few tens of pterygium surgeries). They organized 4 eye camps: in 3 towns in West Sahara (Bir Lahlou, Tifatiti, Meharrize) and in 1 refugee camp in Algeria (Rabuni). They worked in extremely hard conditions (no water or electricity, sand storms). In order to reach their patients they traveled hundreds of kilometers through the desert.
Although the original aim was to perform the maximum number of cataract surgery on the sport they modified their plans according to the requirements expressed by the Polisario Front Ministry of Health. The authorities wanted them to visit the distant free regions of West Sahara where no medical missions reach. The only foreigners there are UN observers and the sapper troops. The inhabitants were refused any help. The doctors aimed to examine and diagnize as many patients as possible and start their medical records. The data was transerred to the local coordinators. Patients with diagnosed cataract were listed and will be transported for surgery to one of the camps in Algeria when a Spanish medical mission comes. Nevertheless doctor Nowak and doctor Matuszyński managed to perform a few tens of pterygium surgeries in West Sahara. Every evening, after the diagnosing process in the eye camp, they unpacked mobile microsurgical equipment and performed surgeries in primitive conditions. Surgeries could have been performed only for 1-2 hours because electricity was turned off later (it came from solar batteries).
The doctors often visited patients who could not reach the eye camps on their own (e.g. a female patient paralyzed after a stroke). The Polish mission ended on Feb 26. After two weeks the exhausted doctors, totally covered with omnipresent dust, returned to Poland.
It is worthwhile to stress here that the airplane tickets, surgical tools and a mobile slit lamp were sponsored by Lions Club POZNAŃ ROTUNDA and Lions Club POZNAŃ PRO FUTURO. The remaining equipemnt and medication (worth 80 thou. PLN) were donated by or rented (worth 25 thou. PLN) by Polish and foreign companies (Seliga, Sonomed, Keeler, Poland Optical, JKT, Alcon, MDT, Bausch&Lomb, Thea, LogiLens).
Doctor Nowak and doctor Matuszyński are going to use the sponsored equipment in their future trips in The Third Eye Project. The next trip still in 2013 – to Nepal.