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World Sight Day

Eye Van Provides Critical Vision Care To Those Across Northern Ontario

Steve Arshinoff

Ophthalmologist & Medical Director, Eye Van 

Jamie Stretch

Business Unit Head of Ophthalmology, Bayer

Ryan Williams

Ophthalmic Technician  & Assistant

Ontario’s travelling eye hospital kicks off 52nd annual trip, continuing its mission bringing life-changing vision care to the provinces’ remote and rural northern communities.

Northern Ontario plays host to an incredibly diverse population of over 800,000 and is home to nearly half of Ontario’s Indigenous population. Small communities and municipalities are scattered amongst the area’s lakes, valleys, and forests, some hundreds of kilometers from the region’s hubs like Sudbury and Thunder Bay. 

While many of these residents have called Northern Ontario home all their lives, a lack of access to healthcare services means that many of those living within these communities are susceptible to common health concerns including vision-affecting disorders. For decades, healthcare organizations and non-profits have advocated for this often-forgotten patient group, working to increase access to healthcare in the north.  

Run by Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada, the VLRC Eye Van is one such program aiming to bridge the gap in eye care for those who need it most. 

Travelling eye care

A ‘Mobile Medical Eye Care Unit’, the Eye Van has been offering ophthalmology services for those living in northern Ontario since 1972, and in 2022 spent 28 weeks travelling to over 20 communities across the region, serving over 5,000 patients. The Eye Van can diagnose common eye-related issues, prescribe treatment, assess progression, and arrange for needed sub-specialized or urgent medical and surgical care.

By far the most rewarding part of the eye van is the patients. This work provides a real difference in the lives of so many.

Dr. Steve Arshinoff, Ophthalmologist and Medical Director for the Eye Van has worked with the team for over 45 years and seen the van transform from a simple Winnebago to a fully functioning mobile clinic: “The Eye Van is unique because it’s basically a travelling mini eye hospital, and able to provide essentially all ophthalmic services wherever it’s taken. There is no other service quite like it.” He notes, “Our mission has always been to care for people in the north. As time progresses the mechanisms may change but the goal always remains the same. As a clinician, you rarely get to visit huge geographical area and make a real difference to that population.”

Possible through partnership

Running from April through to October each year, the Eye Van’s success has been strengthened through VLRC’s partnership with leading pharmaceutical company, Bayer. 

“It’s important for companies in the pharmaceutical space, like Bayer, to give back to patient advocacy groups,” says Jamie Stretch, Business Unit Head of Ophthalmology for Bayer, “They do fantastic work, and those who work for these organizations really do it for the care of the community.” 

Jamie notes that when Bayer found out about Eye Van ten years ago, the team was eager to get involved, understanding the increased need within northern communities and the importance behind access to the services offered by the program. 

Since then, the Eye Van has continued its work with Bayer’s support. Work that Ophthalmic Technician and Assistant Ryan Williams sees firsthand.

Now in his second tour with the Eye Van, Ryan explains that while many of the van’s patients find it difficult to get to their nearest ophthalmology clinic due to distance, finances, age or childcare, the need is evident: “Many of the eye conditions we screen for can result in permanent, irreversible blindness if not treated. As the only eyecare specialists some of our patients see, we are the only opportunity they have to catch these preventable conditions.”

For 51 years, the Eye Van has been making a difference in the lives of those across Northern Ontario, and the team doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon and as Ryan notes, “By far the most rewarding part of the eye van is the patients. This work provides a real difference in the lives of so many.” 

To learn more about the VLRC Eye Van,  which communities it will be visiting, and the services it offers, visit

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