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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

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The eyes have it: The Vision Van mobile eye clinic from the University of Miami is parked at an evacuation center in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, on Friday to provide free treatment. KYODO PHOTOS

Miami eye clinic van pitches in


ONAGAWA, Miyagi Pref. — A state-of-the-art mobile eye clinic, transported by air from Miami, began offering much-needed services Friday in the Tohoku region for people with eye diseases and ailments who had no access to care after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

News photo
A doctor from Tohoku University examines a patient inside the van the same day.

Vision Van, a large vehicle equipped with a comprehensive examination room, three screening stations, a waiting room and advanced ophthalmic equipment, will tour the tsunami-devastated coastal communities for three months, as its owner, the University of Miami's Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, has agreed to lend it for free.

"I think these people here that I met today are really some of the most dignified people," said Richard Lee, associate professor at the institute, as specialists working in the clinic began seeing people in Onagawa, Miyagi Pref.

Lee arrived in Japan on Thursday to train Japanese doctors on how to use the self-contained eye clinic, aboard a special cargo plane that transported the 12-meter vehicle to Sendai Airport.

The airport, partially submerged by the March tsunami, resumed operations Wednesday but only for domestic flights. In light of the urgent need for the provision of eye care to tsunami victims, the plane was given special permission to land at the airport. "I was told that I was the first international passenger (since the resumption)," Lee said.

The vehicle was parked Friday afternoon in front of a gymnasium in Onagawa that has been serving as an evacuation center. During the roughly two hours it operated as an eye clinic, it received around 80 people, including those who lost their glasses in the disaster and a member of the Self-Defense Forces who hurt his eye while removing debris.

A man who received treatment Friday for glaucoma said: "This is a great help. I really appreciate it."

In addition to people who were suffering from eye diseases before the disaster, the van is expected to treat contact lens users who have developed problems with their corneas after wearing lenses for weeks without removing them in evacuation centers, eye experts said.

The van will tour evacuation centers in Iwate Prefecture from Monday through Thursday and in Miyagi Prefecture on Friday and Saturday. Doctors from Keio University, Tohoku University and Iwate Medical University are taking part in the operation, in addition to Tohoku eye doctors who lost their clinics and equipment due to the tsunami.

"I hope this small step in our help will lead to the recovery of the people in Japan," Lee said.

The van, launched in 2004 at the University of Miami to provide early detection of eye diseases such as amblyopia, glaucoma and macular degeneration in underserved areas, was also used for the victims of Hurricane Katrina which hit Louisiana in 2005.

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