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UNHCR and Fuji Optical mark 20 years of visionary partnership

News Stories, 11 June 2004

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
Seeing eye to eye on partnership &; High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers with Fuji Optical President Dr. Akio Kanai in Geneva.

GENEVA, June 11 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency today commemorated 20 years of partnership with Fuji Optical, which runs a programme that has helped tens of thousands of refugees around the world to improve their vision.

On Friday, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers met with the President of Fuji Optical, Dr. Akio Kanai, in Geneva to express his gratitude for the company's long-term support towards refugees.

"The missions give us a tremendous sense of satisfaction," said Dr Kanai. "It opens a new world to us. Staff come back thinking they have to work harder to do more for the refugees next time. Money cannot buy that valuable experience."

Dr. Kanai and his team have just returned from a week-long mission to Armenia, where they tested the vision of 1,022 refugees and donated 3,000 pairs of eye glasses, ophthalmic frames, hearing-aid units and medical equipment for vision.

"Some of them have never had the experience of seeing clearly," Dr. Kanai's son, Hiromasa, said of the recent mission. "When I gave them glasses for the first time, they started to cry, and hugged and kissed me. The reaction was immediate."

This operation is the latest in the long-standing relationship between UNHCR and Fuji Optical. The company has been donating optometric equipment and training medical staff since 1984, beginning with assistance to Indo-Chinese refugees in Thailand. After 10 years of support to refugees in Thailand, annual Vision Aid Missions have assisted the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and the Azerbaijani refugees in Armenia.

In all three countries, Fuji Optical replicated its mission on an annual basis until the needs for vision screening were exhausted. The repeat missions also help to build capacity with a local non-governmental organisation over time.

Friday's meeting at UNHCR headquarters was focused on identifying a new location for subsequent Vision Aid Missions.

Between 1984 and June 2004, a total of 94,187 pairs of glasses were donated. This in-kind contribution represents over $1 million worth of goods and services. Thousands of refugees in several countries are now able to realise everyday tasks that used to be impossible to accomplish due to poor vision.

For years, Hamlet Mirzoyan thought his son was blind. But when the Fuji Optical team visited Armenia, the boy was diagnosed with strong myopia, a condition that was treated with prescription glasses sent from Japan.

"What you have done for us and that you usually do for mankind is immeasurable," wrote Mirzoyan in a letter of appreciation to Dr Kanai. "I am sure that everyone you help, be they in Thailand or Poland, Bhutan or Armenia, will always remember you, Doctor, dedicatedly providing humanitarian services to poor people all over the world."

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Public Health

The health of refugees and other displaced people is a priority for UNHCR.

Health crisis in South Sudan

There are roughly 105,000 refugees in South Sudan's Maban County. Many are at serious health risk. UNHCR and its partners are working vigorously to prevent and contain the outbreak of malaria and several water-borne diseases.

Most of the refugees, especially children and the elderly, arrived at the camps in a weakened condition. The on-going rains tend to make things worse, as puddles become incubation areas for malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Moderately malnourished children and elderly can easily become severely malnourished if they catch so much as a cold.

The problems are hardest felt in Maban County's Yusuf Batil camp, where as many as 15 per cent of the children under 5 are severely malnourished.

UNHCR and its partners are doing everything possible to prevent and combat illness. In Yusuf Batil camp, 200 community health workers go from home to home looking educating refugees about basic hygene such as hand washing and identifying ill people as they go. Such nutritional foods as Plumpy'nut are being supplied to children who need them. A hospital dedicated to the treatment of cholera has been established. Mosquito nets have been distributed throughout the camps in order to prevent malaria.

Health crisis in South Sudan

2006 Nansen Refugee Award

All photos courtesy of Fuji Optical Co. Ltd.

The UN refugee agency has named Japanese optometrist Dr. Akio Kanai as the winner of the 2006 Nansen Refugee Award. Dr. Kanai has worked for more than two decades to improve the quality of life of over 100,000 uprooted people around the world by testing their eyes and providing them with spectacles.

Dr. Kanai, himself forcibly displaced from the northern Pacific island of Sakhalin at the end of World War Two, started his humanitarian work in 1983 in Thailand with Indochinese refugees. In 1984, he first worked with UNHCR and has conducted more than 24 missions to help uprooted people in Nepal, Thailand, Azerbaijan and Armenia. He has donated optometry equipment and more than 108,200 pairs of spectacles, made cash grants and trained local medical staff.

Dr Kanai, who is the chairman and chief executive officer of Fuji Optical, has also rallied his family and staff to participate in Fuji Optical's Vision Aid missions. Some 70 employees have taken part, working in refugee camps during their holidays.

2006 Nansen Refugee Award

UNHCR and Partners Tackle Malnutrition in Mauritania Camp

The UN refugee agency has just renewed its appeal for funds to help meet the needs of tens of thousands of Malian refugees and almost 300,000 internally displaced people. The funding UNHCR is seeking is needed, among other things, for the provision of supplementary and therapeutic food and delivery of health care, including for those suffering from malnutrition. This is one of UNHCR's main concerns in the Mbera refugee camp in Mauritania, which hosts more than 70,000 Malians. A survey on nutrition conducted last January in the camp found that more than 13 per cent of refugee children aged under five suffer from acute malnutrition and more than 41 per cent from chronic malnutrition. Several measures have been taken to treat and prevent malnutrition, including distribution of nutritional supplements to babies and infants, organization of awareness sessions for mothers, increased access to health facilities, launch of a measles vaccination campaign and installation of better water and sanitation infrastructure. Additional funding is needed to improve the prevention and response mechanisms. UNHCR appealed last year for US$144 million for its Mali crisis operations in 2013, but has received only 32 per cent to date. The most urgent needs are food, shelter, sanitation, health care and education.

The photographs in this set were taken by Bechir Malum.

UNHCR and Partners Tackle Malnutrition in Mauritania Camp

Chad: Health for allPlay video

Chad: Health for all

Refugees in southern Chad receive health care under a European Union-funded programme. A new clinic tackles malaria, malnutrition, respiratory infections and more.
Jordan: Getting Health CarePlay video

Jordan: Getting Health Care

In Jordan's Za'atri Refugee Camp, dust and heat are taking their toll, especially on young children.
South Sudan: Providing Health CarePlay video

South Sudan: Providing Health Care

Mobile clinics and hundred of community workers are mobilized to bring health care to the refugees in Yusuf Batil Refugee Camp.