Providing eye care in the heart of Africa

2 min
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.

In some of Africa’s most impoverished countries, sight loss is an emergency, but diagnostic tools are scarce. Canon Medical distributor, Franco Sonnino, is on a mission to change that.

For six years, the Mama Carla clinic has been providing essential medical support to the people of the Central African Republic (CAR). Located in its capital, Bangui, the centre is the beating heart of healthcare provision in the country – as well as a hub for eye care in the area.

Long affected by the widespread presence of glaucoma and cataracts, the region sees eye care as a national emergency – one that’s already having devastating impacts, particularly on the poorest members of the population.

The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness estimates that in 2020 alone, some 450,000 locals suffered with vision loss. Of these 22,000 became blind. And with only one ophthalmologist available in the entire area, efforts to tackle this growing issue are largely limited.

That’s exactly where centres like the Mama Carla clinic are making the difference.

Opened in 2017 by Italian association, Amici per il Centrafrica (Friends of the Central African Republic), the centre is one of only two in the region to have been using life-changing, second-hand eyecare equipment from Canon Medical including the TX-20 Full Auto Tonometer.

The second centre is in Maputo, Mozambique, where eye care suffers from low resourcing and the country’s long-standing battle against diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

Below, the man behind the machines’ installation, Franco Sonnino, discusses the project and how it’s helping to tackle the eye care crisis in the CAR and Mozambique.

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 Medical equipment is supporting the efforts to screen 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 Sonnino is the founder and former CEO and President of FRASTEMA srl, a long-time distributor for Canon Medical Equipment in Italy. Towards the end of his career, he started feeling he needed a change. “The world was running too fast for me, with big evolutions in software, computer science and commercial issues,” he explains.

With Canon's Tonometer, we’re getting closer to our goal of screening as many people as possible for glaucoma and cataracts.”

“I started to look for new ways to be useful.”

It was by lucky coincidence that he received a call from Friends of the Central African Republic. The NGO came asking for his help to build a refracting room and install ophthalmology instruments in Bangui. From that moment on, Franco has been helping local ophthalmologists and opticians in the CAR and Mozambique to provide basic eye care by collecting second-hand equipment from his former customers.

These instruments are proving crucial in both areas – helping to tackle glaucoma and cataracts in the CAR and, most importantly, to diagnose and manage AIDS in Mozambique, where 60% of the population is affected.

Transformational equipment at the Bangui Centre

Installing the equipment was initially a challenge, says Franco, but the centres are now up, running and already making a difference.

This wonderful company has been a constant support for me since my retirement from business.”

“The Bangui centre is working well and we are consigning good quantities of glasses,” he reports, explaining the clinic has now been equipped with Canon Medical equipment including a chair and a stand refracting unit, as well as a chart projector slit lamp.

It is the Canon Tonometer, however, that has made the most tangible impact on screening capacity for both adults and children. “Thanks to the tonometer, we’re getting closer to our goal of screening as many people as possible for glaucoma and cataracts,” explains Franco.

His next step is upgrading the mission and paediatric dispensary in Bangui 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 Friends of the Central African Republic and corporate supporters, such as Canon Medical, he feels hopeful.

“This wonderful company has been a constant support for me  since my retirement from business,” he concludes. “I hope we can continue this fantastic cooperation.”

This article is abstracted from the Canon Medical Systems Europe VISIONS magazine #36. You can find out more about our eyecare equipment here.