When Dr. Emeka Nzekwu attended medical school he was quickly introduced to healthcare inequities in the Canadian healthcare system disparaging many members in our local communities, including low-income groups, the socially displaced, physically disabled, First Nations, low-income groups and senior citizens, amongst others.
These inequities were evident in the various barriers to care experienced by these members of our society, with many of the contemporary methods by which our system attempted community outreach, failing. Recognizing these barriers to care, Dr. Nzekwu was inspired to establish a grassroots solution to the perceived problem; Nations Health. A multidisciplinary healthcare platform providing equitable and accessible healthcare services to local priority populations, Nations Health’s first offering has been Nation’s Vision. A portable eyecare social enterprise, Nation’s Vision has provided eyecare for those unable to access it ensuring the affordability of this service sustainably for the past year.
Dr. Nzekwu knew firsthand that vision care would be lacking in these communities from personal experience; “ … as a child in grade 5 not being able to see the board and my parents not taking me to get my eyes checked cause they didn’t really know, my grades and overall livelihood suffered. Finally having the teacher recognize there was a problem and notifying my parents and then getting my glasses was a traumatizing experience, recognizing just how much of the world I was missing up to that moment and that I now needed “4 eyes” to experience it… one would wonder how my parents didn’t recognize it sooner, but truthfully, it makes no sense to assume they would, they were busy and unaware of the problem, a story one will often hear amongst priority populations regarding many aspects of their health.”
Through key partnerships with the Calgary Catholic School District, the Calgary Board of Education, the Francophone School District, Immigrant Services Calgary, Calgary Catholic Immigrant Society, Center for Newcomers, Calgary Women’s Association, the Drop-In Center and more, Nation’s Vision has been able to provide eye exams at various institutions across Calgary. In addition to these organizations, they also provide services to local senior homes and supporting businesses. Providing services in a portable manner, the Nation’s Vision teams is constantly on the move, accessing various priority populations in locations most convenient for them, providing identical eye exams to those offered in conventional offices, with glasses too!
Dr. Nzekwu is quick to direct any attention or praise to his team. “We’ve put together an excellent team of dedicated eyecare specialists. We’ve got a great optometrist in Dr. Sarah Kim and our opticians, assistants and technicians are all very dedicated to the cause and make the ship run, and they do it because they love it. They love the people they are providing services to and they know they are making a difference in the community. I wish I could get people to see the great work they are doing and recognize how rare it is in the field of optometry to find a team of specialists who spend their entire time working with those who face barriers to care. It’s tough work and they do it with a smile every day”
Although providing the eye exams is the visible service of Nation’s Vision, education and improving health literacy is the most important part says Dr. Nzekwu. According to their data, up to 80% of kids between the ages of 5-9 don’t get an eye exam, and as an example, 34% of Calgarian low-income school children who received an eye exam in the 2019-2020 school year needed glasses. Educating people of the importance of regular eyecare, particularly annual eye exams for children under 19 years of age is priority number one for Nation’s Vision. “Sending out promotional material about eye care and our in-school eye care program, at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing. It’s not about them signing up, it’s about them going and getting it done. Some of them might sign up, but many of them will take their children to a local optometrist! That’s what they should do, that’s what they should have done from the start, and this program is helping remind them of it”
So, where does Devon + Lang come into all of this? Through partnering with Nation’s Vision and providing them with face masks so that they are able to continue operations through the COVID-19 pandemic. Emeka initially purchased Devon + Lang’s reusable masks for his team and they loved the feel and comfort they wanted to further help these children in need by providing them with a quality reusable mask. “Given that a lot of these families are struggling it would be nice to be able to get a face mask for them that would be free. Their children get a free eye exam at school and a customized children’s face mask for free as well!”
At the end of the day Nation’s Vision is here to make a difference for those who need it most in their community, while supporting other local businesses. “I think it’s really important that Calgarian companies and organizations work together to help Calgarians, particularly in these times.”
Looking towards the future, Dr. Nzekwu would love to continue to grow the program within Calgary as well as provide guidance to similar programs starting up in Edmonton and other Albertan communities.
Devon + Lang is proud to partner with such a great organization that makes a real difference in our communities and in the lives of various local priority populations. 100% of proceeds from the limited edition Nation’s Vision Reusable Face Masks will be used to provide 1,000 custom made reusable, child-sized face masks for low income Calgarian school children.