A White Cane for Africa

Mobile eye clinics for African countries. The Cavazza Institute's international efforts in the story of Forem's President
Fernando Torrente
Mostafà Khiati

For over a decade now, Mr. Nourredine Amirouche regularly travels in Algeria, his native country, visiting different towns and distributing essential training material for the autonomy of people living with vision loss: Braille tablets, cubarithm boards, white canes, etc.

This activity is self-financed thanks to the proceeds from a dinner which is generally organized in October and which is attended by the many friends who give him a hand. These past three years, Fernando Torrente, staff of Bologna's Institute for the Blind Francesco Cavazza, has accompanied Nourredine Amirouche in his travels to Algeria. The Italian Blind Union has also contributed actively to the worthwhile work of Nourredine Amirouche by donating a considerable number of Braille tablets and cubarithm boards. In 2013, the Cavazza Institute has also donated a Braille printer that Nourredine Amirouche brought to the Braille library in the city of Biskra. Thanks to Nourredine Amirouche's work, a relationship was established between the Francesco Cavazza Institute and the association Forem* whose most significant achievement at the time is told in this article.

Inside the clinic, Algeria

The three most common eye diseases in Algeria are glaucoma, complications from diabetes and cataracts. These are particularly frequent in the southern part of the country. They are linked to the combination of at least three factors: strong brightness, sandstorms, scarcity of water. Eye infections often develop when people rub their eyes. Treatment of cataracts is expensive. Its cost varies from 300 to 1,000 dollars. Nine out of ten people are unable to seek treatment. As part of its humanitarian activities, Forem stepped in to address the needs of this population by sending interdisciplinary teams to put together cataract care campaigns (in 2008, 400 individuals had surgery over a period of ten days at El Oued, in 2010, 400 people had surgery in Adrar, and the following years, 50 to 60 individuals received surgery annually). This activity geared toward the prevention and treatment of eye diseases has led to the development of many projects including the establishment of mobile eye clinics travelling throughout the South.

The idea took shape during the visit in Bologna of the Forem delegation at the Cavazza Institute which has provided the necessary advice to achieve this kind of "clinic." During their visit at the Institute, at the end of March 2014, members of the delegation met among others Dr. Fernando Torrente and the Institute's Executive Director Dr. Mario Barbuto. On that occasion, the delegation led by Forem's President appointed Mr. Nourredine Amirouche Forem's representative in Italy. Mr. Amirouche has dual Italian-Algerian citizenship and has been living in Italy for the past forty years.

Mr. Amirouche has shown for many years a special interest for people living with vision loss. He organizes every year a fund-raising dinner. The proceeds are used to purchase material for the visually impaired (canes, Braille tablets, watches, games, etc.). All this material is distributed to young visually impaired people following an informational meeting. Distribution takes place the first week of every year in a different province of the country. This is how, over the last few years, visits were made in various cities: Biskra, Adrar, Tissemsilt, Tiaret, El Golea, El Oued. Mr. Amirouche uses his vacation time to devote himself to his humanitarian work and has been accompanied for a few years by Professor Torrente and his wife. Following their visit at the Cavazza Institute, a partnership agreement was signed between Forem and the Institute.


Opening of the clinic, Algeria

Back in Algeria, Forem's President presented the project of the mobile eye clinic to the Italian Ambassador, His Excellency Mr. Michele Giacomelli, who immediately joined the project. Within a few days, and after a few phone calls and meetings, several sponsors have agreed to participate in the project, namely Mr. Bairi, president of the Iveco company in Algiers, the representative of the Italian company Condotte and a manufacturer of trailers for whom sponsoring a project was the first experience. The project was made possible thanks to the availability of Dr. Sadek, Forem's volunteer ophthalmologist. As soon as the meeting was over, the clinic was premiered, as part of the grand opening of the Year of Light in Algiers, at the Cultural Palace on April 11, 2015, in the presence of UNESCO's Director General and of various representatives of the Algerian government.

The clinic has officially left the Italian Embassy in Algiers on May 17, 2015, in the presence of various personalities, including His Excellency the Italian Ambassador and Embassy officials, FCE President and officials, a representative of the Department of Health, Forem's executive Board members and the press. Since then, the clinic has been in constant activity in the South, it was in El Goléa on May 20th (900 kilometres south of Algiers), in Adrar on May 28th (1,500 kilometres south of Algiers) where the Prefect and local authorities paid a visit. The clinic has been active in various locations: Timimoun, Charouine, Ouled Aissan Talmine, Tsabit, Bouda, Tamentit, etc.


Intaugurazione della clinica - Algeria

People who had been diagnosed with cataracts received their surgery thanks to Forem's volunteer ophthalmologists in the hospitals of Timimoun (1,300 kilometres from Algiers) and Reggane (1,700 kilometres). These volunteers come from different regions in Algeria and also from abroad. They take turn in spending a week in the South to work as volunteers. The demand has become such that Forem has had to send medical teams to Aoulef (1,850 kilometres from Algiers), Timocton, Tit and Akabli.

The success of the mobile eye clinic has led Forem to put in place a second clinic in order to travel throughout the southwestern area (provinces of Tamanrasset and Illizi). At the same time, Forem is about to complete the project of a mobile eye clinic for surgery which will allow doctors, once the diagnosis of cataracts has been established, to operate on site.

*Forem: Fondation pour la promotion de la santé et le développement de la recherche


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