VLRC Eye Van Embarks on 50th Anniversary Tour

Celebrating five decades of mobile eye care in Northern Ontario

The VLRC Medical Mobile Eye Care Unit, known as the Eye Van, has set off on its annual tour, marking the 50th anniversary of the program.  

Operated by Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada (VLRC), the Eye Van is a mobile medical clinic that delivers eye care in northern Ontario communities where ophthalmology services aren’t readily available. With the commitment of 25 participating ophthalmologists and funding from the Ontario Ministry of Health, the Eye Van travels more than 6,000 kilometres every year to serve nearly 4,500 patients across Northern Ontario.

“We are thrilled to be celebrating the Eye Van’s fiftieth birthday this year,” says Lisa O'Bonsawin, General Manager of the Medical Mobile Eye Care Unit. “We’re so grateful to the many people, including dozens of dedicated ophthalmologists, who have helped keep the Eye Van going strong for all these years.” 

Established in 1972 as part of the Prevention of Blindness program in partnership with the Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the Eye Van started out as a modest camper van outfitted with equipment to perform eye exams and provide basic treatment. Today the Eye Van is a full-sized truck-trailer, equipped with the latest medical technology for performing in-depth eye exams and providing a wide array of treatments, including minor eye surgery. It’s also fully wheelchair accessible and outfitted with WIFI Internet access.  

One thing that’s never changed is the goal of the Eye Van’s annual tour: to help people in northern Ontario communities prevent vision loss and improve their eye health through early detection and treatment of eye conditions. In fact, nearly 90 per cent of patients who visit the Eye Van continue to be monitored by Eye Van ophthalmologists for eye conditions that could lead to blindness, if left untreated.

“It’s estimated that around 75 per cent of vision loss is preventable, and many common eye diseases can be treated if caught early,” says O'Bonsawin. “The Eye Van is a crucial pathway to vision health for people in communities across Northern Ontario, where this kind of care simply isn’t readily accessible.”

After kicking off in Englehart, Ontario, in late April, the Eye Van is en route to visit 17 communities on this year’s golden anniversary tour, which is sponsored by Bayer. The tour will culminate in Little Current, Ontario, in October. Learn more at visionlossrehab.ca/eyevan.