Solutions for BlindnessThere is a strong correlation between blindness and global poverty and people living with both have faced even more challenges than usual amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This is why one Harvard graduate chose to research eye diseases, their causes and how they intersect with global poverty. Lawson Ung focused on solutions for blindness that can also alleviate poverty, such as cataract surgery and spreading awareness of treatment options. In the same vein, the United Nations (U.N.) recently created an initiative that will help people living with blindness and other vision-related challenges.

Harvard Graduate Conducts Research on Blindness and Poverty

After developing an interest in studying ophthalmology, Lawson Ung, a recent Harvard graduate, became inspired to do research on eye disease. While working in a lab, Ung decided to research how eye diseases impact different parts of the world. He learned that 80% of people living with blindness live in low- or middle-income countries and most have limited access to eye doctors. Blindness also increases the likelihood of poverty since eye-related issues can impact people’s abilities to complete daily tasks.

Possible Solutions for Blindness

One solution for blindness that would benefit about half of the people in low-income countries is cataract surgery. Cataract surgery is inexpensive and boosts productivity significantly. Another solution for blindness is spreading awareness that vision loss is not inevitable while informing people about treatment options. This involves reaching out to patients who lack access to eye care services and providing them with the resources they need. However, cultural issues such as acceptance must be a priority in order to make improvements. One study found that only about 22% of blind people living in poverty were willing to receive free cataract surgery.

The UN Creates “Vision for Everyone”

The U.N. recently created “Vision for Everyone,” an initiative that plans to expand access to eye care services in low-income countries. The reason behind this initiative is the high likelihood of more people suffering from vision-related issues in upcoming years. The initiative’s priorities include encouraging governments to improve eye care availability and highlighting the socioeconomic impact of vision loss. The initiative believes that eye care is an important component of poverty alleviation.

In his research, Ung found that many people living with eye disease also face poverty and other environmental barriers. However, cataract surgery and informing people about treatment options are possible solutions for blindness. The U.N.’s “Vision for Everyone” will work to alleviate global poverty by reaching out to millions of people who suffer from blindness and other vision-related issues.

Chloe Moody
Photo: Flickr

Trachoma in developing countriesTrachoma, an unsung yet highly infectious disease, is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the leading cause of blindness across the world. Data from March 2020 indicates that 137 million people live in areas that put them at risk of trachoma. It is estimated that several million people suffer from the disease worldwide, across 44 different countries. The disease is easily transmitted between two people and its effects can be devastating. The WHO has prioritized the elimination of trachoma in developing countries, where trachoma is common.

Trachoma and its Effects

The WHO reports that “transmission occurs through contact with infective discharges from the eyes and nose, particularly in young children, who harbor the main reservoir of infection. It is also spread by flies which have been in contact with the eyes and noses of infected people.” If left untreated, it can cause irreversible blindness. Trachoma also deeply affects the quality of life of families and entire communities where it is present as people with trachoma are often prevented from working and providing for their families. Additionally, women get trachoma at much higher rates than men because they are much more exposed to potentially infected children.

Trachoma Elimination Progress

Over the past two decades, significant work has been done in countries where trachoma is endemic, in order to eradicate the disease once and for all. This work has been extremely effective. Since 2002, those at risk of trachoma in developing countries and across the world have dropped 91%. Although that equates to 142 million people, the number is down from 1.5 billion people in 2002, which is progress on an incredible scale. Anthony Solomon, a medical officer in charge of WHO’s global trachoma elimination program, states that “We should be able to relegate trachoma to the history books in the next few years but we will only do so by redoubling our efforts now. The last few countries are likely to be the hardest. This is great progress but we cannot afford to become complacent.”

The Carter Center

In addition to the WHO, a number of different NGOs have been working to lower rates of trachoma, in developing countries especially. The Carter Center, founded by former U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, is an organization with a huge scope. Causes that the organization supports include peacebuilding, healthcare and human rights across the globe. The Carter Center’s commitment to ending trachoma is integral as it has provided resources such as eyelid surgery and other medical services for trachoma and is working to improve the environmental conditions of trachoma endemic countries. The Center states that “Over the course of 20 years (1999 to 2019), the Center has assisted national programs in providing 846,219  trachomatous trichiasis surgeries in Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan and Sudan.” Although Trachoma can be potentially life-changing if left untreated, there are definite medical steps that can be taken before it reaches that point. The Carter Center and other organizations like it are providing crucial resources in order to save lives and eliminate trachoma in developing countries.

Trachoma’s Link to Poverty

Ultimately, eliminating trachoma in developing countries not only means improving the physical health of those who are currently at risk but it would greatly lower poverty rates in those same countries as well. Trachoma hurts the local economy, which in turn has a global impact. Providing the necessary healthcare and aid to those struggling with trachoma will in turn boost the quality of life in dozens of countries, therefore improving the global economy and allowing trade to flourish worldwide. The WHO Alliance for the Global Elimination of Trachoma by 2020 (GET2020 Alliance) set a target to eliminate trachoma entirely by 2020. While that goal may have been missed, significant progress has been made and blindness rates are likely to continue falling rapidly in the coming years.

– Leo Posel
Photo: Flickr

Project PrakashMore than one million children in developing countries are blind. The majority of these children live in rural India, where more than six million people are blind. However, most hospitals in India do not possess specialty care for children who are blind. For children who do have access to special services, transportation acts as a significant obstacle to getting treatment. Many rural children also often do not know that their condition is reversible and cannot afford treatment. Pawan Sinha, a professor at M.I.T. and a father himself, hypothesized that most of the children suffering could have their vision restored. He founded Project Prakash to make his idea into a reality.

Blindness and Poverty

In rural areas, a lack of knowledge about blindness means that blind children are often subject to lifelong stigma. Some people, for example, may believe that blind children possess demons. Parents often turn to someone who is not in the medical field to perform a ritual to rid them of their evil spirits.

Importantly, if children do not receive medical treatment early on, their condition can get worse with age. This deprives them of education and puts them at a higher risk of dying young. Furthermore, blind girls often face a high risk of sexual abuse. Blind children in rural India may also never have the opportunity to escape poverty, as they are unlikely to find future job opportunities if they reach adulthood.

Project Prakash: A Solution

Project Prakash provides free treatment to any child who needs it. It operates in many hospitals throughout India to provide non-surgical intervention for blind children. This type of treatment may include glasses or an eye patch. For children who do require surgical treatment, the organization works with the Charity Eye Hospital in Delhi to treat cataracts, congenital infections and misaligned eyes. Most importantly, the entire process of treatment, transportation, hospital stay, surgery and recovery costs nothing for the child or their family.

Project Prakash’s work also extends beyond treatment itself. Instead of letting children go after they receive medical intervention, the organization helps them throughout the recovery process. Sinha understands that blind children regaining vision do not immediately have perfect sight; much like a baby, it is a process. Children’s vision is often blurred at first, and it takes time to make out finer details.

Over 40 weeks, children learn how to use their new sense through a variety of tests. The full scale of the tests range from the sensitivity of vision, shape matching, identifying different colors, detection of facial features and recognizing objects. Once the child can process multiple pieces of visual information at once, their vision improves.

Research

The effects of Project Prakash’s work go beyond the children themselves. The hospital where children receive surgery also operates as a research facility to study neurology and vision. By providing such an intensive process for children to learn how to use their vision, the organization can learn a lot about the brain’s ability to learn and adapt.

The organization’s findings challenge the theory developed by David H. Hubel and Torsten N. Wiesel that the connection between brain stimulation and visual information forms during a particular developmental period. They theorized that if a child does not go through this stage, they will never be able to adapt later in life. However, Sinha proved that teenagers with various congenital conditions were able to recover their eyesight after never having seen before. He therefore determined that people learn to see through experience. This valuable information makes it more likely that other blind children can receive treatment, knowing that it will help them see no matter their age.

The Future of Project Prakash

Project Prakash’s mission may soon extend beyond blindness. Its research could provide insight into other developmental disorders caused by genetics or the harsh conditions of poverty. Overall, the organization’s findings open up the possibility that these factors’ negative effect on the brain may be reversible, like blindness.

So far, Project Prakash has treated 2,000 children in underserved communities in rural India. More than half have received surgical treatment to restore their vision. By doing so, the organization is helping children live longer, better lives with more opportunities for the future.

Zoe Schlagel
Photo: Flickr

Sight Impairments in Poverty
Poverty can be a result of several contributing factors unique to the country in which a person lives, the family they were born into and/or having a disability. Whether the disability contributes to blindness, deafness or a physical ailment, people with disabilities in poverty can have a much more difficult life. Looking more closely at blindness, people in poverty with this particular disability have a higher mortality rate. Therefore, those living with sight impairments in poverty are at an elevated risk of death. Studies about the correlation between poverty and blindness in Africa found that people who are both blind and poor live 15 to 20 years less than those who are only poor. The correlation between blindness and poverty has also found that people who are blind can become unemployed, which in turn, leads to living below the poverty line.

The Scope of the Problem

Worldwide, 2.2 billion people experience blindness or vision impairment and only 1 billion of those cases are preventable with proper treatment. Without proper eye care and preventative treatments, people suffer not only with visual impairments but also in their socioeconomic status. Several visual impairments arise from cataract, glaucoma and corneal opacity. While some cases may require extensive care, others can be improved by providing glasses to correct visual impairments. The need to provide care for those visually impaired is vital to help keep people out of poverty. The organization, SEE International, provides care to those with sight impairments in poverty, through volunteers who help to correct handicaps.

SEE International

SEE International is a nonprofit organization that relies on teams of volunteers to provide their services to those in need. They consist of 650 professional optometrists who work in 80 countries and developed 200 programs. The programs allow the optometrists to use their expertise to help those with curable, eye impairments. Depending on the severity of the case, optometrists will work in their location for up to five days while giving lectures to pass on their knowledge. SEE International volunteers can help between 50–300 people during their program. The organization partners with other healthcare organizations to provide the necessary equipment for successful surgeries. SEE International can aid with several eye conditions and diseases, e.g.: cataracts, childhood and corneal blindness, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and strabismus. Through education and distribution of proper resources, SEE International aids the community in preventing several diseases.

Lasting Effects

Volunteers from SEE International work to aid those with visual impairments and also provide equipment that can stay within the country. This way, optometrists who are natives can perform procedures to support their community. Knowing there are ways to prevent visual impairments can lead to organizations like SEE International taking action. Unfortunately, disabilities go hand in hand with poverty and can prevent people from obtaining a better life. With preventive treatments, people who were once visually impaired can continue their education, begin working and provide for their families. By providing education and supplies to those in need, SEE International can give relief and aid to those on their journey towards a brighter future.

Brooke Young
Photo: Flickr

Himalayan Cataract ProjectIn 1995, Dr. Geoff Tabin and Dr. Sanduk Ruit launched the Himalayan Cataract Project to eliminate curable and preventable blindness in under-resourced Himalayan communities. The two founded their innovative campaign after recognizing that cataracts account for 70% of unnecessary blindness in Nepal. Cataracts, or cloudy, opaque areas in the eye that block light entry, occur naturally with age. Poor water quality, malnutrition and disease tend to exacerbate the issue in developing countries.

For years, Dr. Tabin and Dr. Ruit had seen Nepalese villagers take blindness as a death sentence. “It was just accepted that you get old, your hair turns white, your eyes turn white, you go blind and you die,” Dr. Tabin told the Stanford Medicine magazine. But after Dutch teams arrived in Nepal to perform cataract surgery, he explained, “People came back to life. It was amazing.”

The Strategy

The Himalayan Cataract Project delivers sight-restoring cataract surgery at a low cost. Dr. Ruit’s groundbreaking procedure lasts 10 minutes and costs just $25. Today the organization has succeeded in providing permanent refractive correction for well over 500,000 people.

In an effort to leave a more sustainable impact, the project works from a “train the trainer” model that empowers community health providers and enhances local eye care centers. Rather than simply treating patients in need, specialists introduce new methods and technology to strengthen the practices of existing clinics.

As a result of these and other advances, the blindness rate in Nepal has plummeted to 0.24%, similar to that of Western countries. The Himalayan Cataract Project now operates in India, Tibet and Myanmar. Dr. Tabin has also initiated training programs in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Ghana and Ethiopia. He hopes to see the same successes here as achieved in Asia.

The Link Between Blindness and Poverty

Addressing blindness is a critical step in the fight against poverty. Blindness prevents able-bodied workers from supporting themselves, shortens lives and reduces the workforce. Children of blind parents often stay home from school as they scramble to fulfill the duties of household caregivers and providers. In short, blindness worsens poverty, while poverty magnifies the risk of blindness.

The Himalayan Cataract Project aims to break the cycle of blindness and poverty. Studies have shown a 400% return on every dollar that the organization invests in eradicating curable and preventable blindness. Their procedures stimulate the economy by helping patients get back to work.

Individual success stories continue to power the organization. Adjoe, a 40-year-old mother from Togo, traveled to Ghana for surgery when she determined that her blind eye was hurting business. As a street vendor selling beans, she saw customers avoid her stand for fear of contagion. She consulted Dr. Boteng Wiafe, a partner of the Himalayan Cataract Project, who performed oculoplastic surgery and gave her a prosthetic eye. Carefully matching the prosthetic to the size, color and shape of her good eye, Dr. Wiafe ensured that Adjoe could return home to provide for her family once again.

Response to COVID-19

In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a halt to live clinical training and elective surgeries, but the backlog of blindness continues to grow worldwide. Meanwhile, concerns about the virus may dissuade blind patients from seeking treatment for the next several years.

While eye care has been suspended, the Himalayan Cataract Project is using this time to redesign and restructure their programs so as to emerge even stronger than before. The organization is also working to equip partner clinics with information and resources to keep their patients safe. Some communities have even taken part in the shift to remote education and implemented a virtual training system.

Despite the uncertainty of the months ahead, the Himalayan Cataract Project remains firm in its commitment to fighting blindness and poverty. Its partner clinics around the globe have been tireless in their efforts to affirm that the poor and vulnerable will receive the eye care they need once patients can receive in-person treatment again.

Katie Painter
Photo: Flickr

Helen Keller International
Helen Keller International (HIK) is an organization that is dedicated to helping the world’s poor by combating poverty, blindness, poor health and malnutrition for all people. It predominately helps those who are less fortunate and do not have accessibility to the resources that help maintain an adequate living.

The Main Focus

HIK primarily focuses on preventing blindness in people by providing them with cataract surgery, vision correction and distributing treatments and cures for tropical diseases. This is how it plans on combating poverty in developing countries. It currently has more than 120 programs in about 20 countries all over the world.

It works with various partners to implement strategies that will combat poverty and strengthen these programs. Some of its partners include organizations such as the West African Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, UNICEF, World Health Organization and the World Food Program.

Helen Keller International’s Accomplishments

According to reports from Impact Information in 2018, HIK provided 15,000 free precision glasses to disadvantaged youth and performed 40,000 cataract surgeries.

In 2014, USAID funded a five-year Morbidity Management and Disability Prevention Project (MMDP) to strengthen illness management and prevent disabilities in African countries. HIK has led the MMDP project in Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Ethiopia since July 2014. As a result, thousands of people have benefited from HIK’s help and dedication to the project.

The project combats painful diseases such as trichiasis which can cause scarring to the cornea because it causes the eyelash to grow backward. The project also treats hydrocele, which causes the male scrotum to swell causing extreme pain. This is most common in male newborns.

HIK’s work with the MMDP project in the countries above has helped 2.1 million people get screenings for trichiasis and 76,000 people received trichiasis surgery. Additionally, HIK was able to train 280 trichiasis surgeons. This organization also provided hydrocele surgery to over 2,000 men and trained 200 hydrocele surgeons. HIK has changed the lives of many people at risk.

Global Impact

Helen Keller International is combating poverty by improving the lives of the world’s poor at a global level as well. The MMDP project improves data availability and use by sharing knowledge worldwide. The project also assisted in developing tools and resources for communities to use internationally in trachoma and LF programs around the world.

HIK believes that neglected tropical diseases are direct consequences of poverty. To combat this poverty it has turned its focus to protect health. HIK aids in the fight against five diseases including trachoma, river blindness, intestinal worms, snail fever and lymphatic filariasis. All of these diseases cause extreme pain and can even lead to death.

To combat these diseases, HIK has helped deliver thousands of trachoma surgeries to poor communities and will continue to do so in hopes of eliminating trachoma by 2020. The organization has helped develop a platform that is effective in the treatment of river blindness across Africa. HIK also helps developing countries distribute deworming medication to children in at-risk communities.

Helen Keller International is combating poverty all over the world through efforts to protect health and advert the causes of blindness and more in poor countries. Through its efforts, it has aided many in poverty and that number should only grow.

– Jessica Jones
Photo: Flickr

countries that have eliminated trachoma

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) affect more than 1.4 billion people in 149 countries. These diseases flourish in areas of the world where there is a lack of basic sanitation, which means that the global poor have the highest risk of contracting them. These diseases are preventable and treatable, but due to a lack of resources and aid, millions of people still suffer from these diseases that can cause them to be disfigured, disabled and may even result in death.

However, with the help of several different organizations and national campaigns, many countries have successfully eliminated some NTDs, including trachoma, which is the leading cause of blindness in the world. Trachoma is a bacterial eye infection that affects the eyes and eyelids, causing the eyelashes to turn inward toward the eye leaving patients blind.

Here are three countries that have eliminated trachoma.

3 Countries That Have Eliminated Trachoma

  • Ghana – In 2018, Ghana became the first country in West Africa to eliminate blinding trachoma. Three groups were instrumental in this effort: FHI 360 – a nonprofit human development organization; END in Africa Project (financed by USAID) and Ghana Health Service’s NTD program. Working together, the three organizations eliminated blinding trachoma over an eight-year period. From 2010 to 2018, the END in Africa Project supported the global distribution of more than 464 million NTD Program treatments for trachoma and other diseases. They also mapped disease distribution, treated at-risk populations and monitored treatment impact while also documenting successes along the road to eliminating this terrible disease. FHI 360 provided technical and financial assistance for trachoma post-treatment surveillance, which will help with further prevention of the disease. The program’s long surveillance and treatment of patients is a testament to its dedication and commitment to ending NTDs.
  • Laos – In 2017, Laos became the fifth endemic country in the world to eliminate blinding trachoma as a public health problem. Blinding trachoma was especially common among young children. The United States government had been supporting Laos since 2012 through several USAID projects, such as END in Asia and ENVISION. These projects assisted the Ministry of Health in collecting reliable data on the status of trachoma, which helped determine the correct approach to eradicate the disease. Laos was able to place ophthalmologists at national, provincial and district levels to detect and operate on cases of patients with the disease. The projects also trained primary health care workers to screen patients for trachoma, and they gave patients with less severe conditions the antibiotic eye treatments they needed. Nongovernmental organizations also helped train health volunteers in villages on ways to prevent trachoma. Education ministries invited volunteers to come to their schools and educate their students on facial cleanliness and showed how the infection spread from person to person. Laos achieved amazing success with its partners, working to not only diagnose and treat the disease but also to educate people on how to prevent trachoma.
  • Mexico – Mexico became the first country in the Americas and the third country in the world to officially eliminate trachoma in April 2017. In 2004, the Secretary of Health of the state of Chiapas formed a group of health professionals called Trachoma Brigades to implement SAFE, the strategy recommended by the World Health Organization to eliminate the disease. In their fight against this disease, Mexico provided surgery for people at imminent risk of blindness, administered antibiotics in affected communities to reduce infection in children as well as to stop transmission, promoted personal hygiene and improved environmental conditions. The SAFE strategy’s 4 interventions have been especially successful in the state of Chiapas. Trachoma was endemic in 246 communities in the state and affected over 146,000 citizens. Trachoma Brigades, alongside national, state and community efforts and international partners, eradicated this disease. Trachoma Brigades visited communities several times a year to conduct surveys, eye examinations, identify cases, administer antibiotics, educate children about proper hygiene and perform surgeries.

These three countries worked for years to eradicate this trachoma and improve their citizens’ quality of life. The combined efforts of multiple organizations and governments brought medication, surgeries and public education to these countries toward achieving this goal. In addition to Ghana, Laos and Mexico, countries such as Cambodia, Togo, The Marshall Islands, Oman and Morocco have also made progress against this disease.

It is a U.S. foreign policy objective to support the treatment, control and elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). The World Health Organization recognizes 17 NTDs which currently afflict 1.4 billion people around the globe. Urge Congress to support the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act to advance U.S. foreign policy interests and safeguard national security.

Email Congress to End NTDs

Jannette Aguirre
Photo: WHO

VISION 2020 initiativeBlindness, as well as moderate to severe visual impairments (MSVI), affects hundreds of millions of people around the world. An estimated 217 million people suffer from MSVI, and 36 million are blind. However, despite the fact that 89 percent of all visually impaired people live in developing countries, blindness tends to be one of the more overlooked aspects of anti-poverty and development efforts around the world.

In 1999, the World Health Organization (WHO), in partnership with more than 20 other organizations, launched the VISION 2020: The Right to Sight campaign, which intended to “eliminate the main causes of all preventable and treatable blindness as a public health issue by the year 2020.” Since the beginning of the campaign, much progress has been made in reducing preventable blindness around the world. However, preventable blindness continues to be an issue around the world, particularly in impoverished countries.

Before diving into the origins, objectives and accomplishments of the VISION 2020 initiative, it will be useful to understand how blindness, MSVI and global poverty intersect.

Blindness and Global Poverty

Due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of blind and visually impaired people live in poor and middle-income countries, poor eye health has become deeply intertwined with global poverty. In general, blindness and MSVI are common among the global poor because of their inability to afford health services, which puts them at an increased risk of contracting eye diseases. Additionally, a lack of awareness about eye health exacerbates this problem.

Unfortunately, poverty can cause blindness just as much as blindness can cause poverty. Blindness can impose severe economic burdens on those affected by drastically reducing their ability to work and provide for themselves. Ninety percent of blind people around the world cannot work. High levels of blindness also create economic problems for whole countries, and even the world economy. In 2000, it was estimated that visual impairment cost the global economy between $19,223 million and $22,764 million in GDP.

Blindness can also bring negative social consequences, such as a loss of social standing and authoritative decision-making. This social stigma is particularly prevalent in blind women, 80 percent of whom report a loss of authority within their families. Additionally, the economic impact of blindness can lead the afflicted to feel an increased sense of social isolation and alienation from their communities.

The VISION 2020 Initiative

The VISION 2020 initiative is a multi-organization campaign, launched by the WHO in 1999, which aims to eliminate preventable blindness by the year 2020. In order to achieve this goal, VISION 2020 has used three core strategies. These include using specific programs to control and treat the major causes of blindness, training ophthalmologists and other eye doctors to provide eye care to those who need it, and improving technology and infrastructure to increase the accessibility of eye treatment.

Since the VISION 2020 initiative launched, some progress has undeniably been made toward reducing preventable blindness worldwide. Between 1999 and 2015, the prevalence of visual impairment decreased from 4.58 percent to 3.38 percent. Additionally, many low and middle-income countries are seeing increased rates of cataract surgery.

However, despite the fact that the campaign is in its final year, it will not achieve its goal of ending preventable blindness around the world. Compounding this problem, researchers are pointing to emerging global health trends that are expected to cause an increase in visual impairments around the world. For example, an increase in the elderly population will likely give rise to an increase in age-related visual impairments, like cataracts. Increased rates of diabetes around the world are causing higher rates of diabetic retinopathy.

It is important to recognize that while these health developments may complicate efforts to reduce blindness worldwide, the fact that researchers have knowledge of these trends can shape the strategies of future anti-blindness campaigns. Despite the failure of the VISION 2020 initiative to end preventable blindness around the world, experts can learn from the program’s shortcomings and build on its successes going forward.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr

vision in developing countriesOver 90 percent of visually impaired people worldwide live in developing countries. Sightsavers partners with local entities to protect vision in developing countries from the Caribbean to Africa and Asia. The organization has treated over 200 million people for potentially blinding conditions.

To date, Sightsavers has facilitated seven million eye operations in 30 countries to prevent blindness. The organization has also trained almost 500,000 medical providers in eye care and has rehabilitated 91,000 visually impaired people.

Sightsavers specifically treats neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), cataracts and refractive errors that negatively affect vision in developing countries. The nongovernmental organization also advocates for disability-inclusive development.

Neglected Tropical Diseases

Over one billion people globally are impacted by neglected tropical diseases. Sightsavers targets five NTDs that affect eyesight – trachoma, river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, intestinal worms and schistosomiasis.

In 2016, the organization distributed almost 47 million treatments for river blindness. Further, it treated over 16.5 million people for intestinal worms and treated over 5.7 million people for schistosomiasis. Sightsavers aims to totally eliminate trachoma and lymphatic filariasis from its covered countries by 2020.

In 2016, Sightsavers and its partners distributed 154 million treatments for NTDs. Sightsavers facilitates initiatives that fight neglected tropical diseases in 29 developing countries.

Cataracts

Worldwide, 20 million people have lost vision due to cataracts. In some of the African countries covered by Sightsavers, 60 percent of cases of blindness are caused by cataracts.

Since the organization’s inception in 1950, Sightsavers has facilitated 6.6 million cataract surgeries. Furthermore, it has trained over 1,000 healthcare professionals to treat the condition. A child’s cataract surgery costs Sightsavers only $78.

Refractive Errors

Globally, 124 million people have untreated refractive errors like nearsightedness and astigmatism. Sightsavers has distributed almost three million pairs of eyeglasses in developing countries. Additionally, the organization trained 726 optometrists.

In 2016, Sightsavers’ School Health Integrated Programming (SHIP) initiative checked school-aged children in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Senegal and Ghana for poor eyesight. The program examined 57,400 children and provided 1,000 pairs of eyeglasses.

Advocacy

Worldwide, one billion people — 15 percent of the population — live with a disability. Eighty percent of disabled persons live in developing countries. In addition to protecting vision in developing countries through medical care, Sightsavers advocates for disability-inclusive development.

The organization’s “Put Us in The Picture” program has campaigned for incorporation of disabled persons in the development process since 2013. The initiative works to ensure that the needs of disabled residents of developing countries are considered in global development.

Sightsavers also advocates for equal access for disabled people to quality education and healthcare. The organization also works to ensure disabled people can find employment and participate in their political systems.

– Katherine Parks

Photo: Flickr

Braille Without Borders Is in DangerBraille Without Borders, the renowned school for the blind, is in danger of being shut down. The institution was co-founded in May 1998 by German born Sabriye Tenberken and Dutch born Paul Kronenberg in Tibet to empower students who are blind or visually impaired. A Tibetan agency wishes to discontinue integration training that helps blind people assimilate into society. No explanation has been given as to why.

Braille Without Borders is so named because its founders are determined to defy the odds. They hope to inspire blind and visually impaired children to overcome negative perceptions in society that prevent them from playing an active and inclusive role. To bring this to fruition, students are given a holistic education that encompasses academic and life skills.

The preparatory school that is in danger of closing teaches students how to read and write the Tibetan, Chinese and English Braille scripts. Students are also trained in different vocations such as animal husbandry, agriculture, market gardening, composting and working in the cheese industry. Through educating children holistically, the program ensures students can take control over their lives upon exiting.

Tenberken created Braille Without Borders out of frustration. She lost her sight at the age of 12 and decided at a young age, with support from her family, not to let society tell her what she is capable of. In a 2010 interview with Deutsche Welle, she stated that it angers her that impaired people are not taken seriously because others focus too much on the disability the person has.

Furthermore, prior to the program beginning, Tibetan blind children were social outcasts. People thought they were stupid or possessed by demons, and parents didn’t want to touch their own children. Tibetan citizens believed blindness was a curse from God because of an evil committed.

The success of the program has changed how the blind are perceived. Tenberken stated in the same interview that people stand up for the visually impaired now, as Braille Without Borders has been very successful in reducing the stigma against blind people and providing them with an education. No longer is it okay to call them blind fools. They are confident young people who contribute to society.

So far, the program has impacted the lives of 300 children ages six to 15. However, there is far more work to be accomplished. Statistics state 30,000 of the 2.5 million inhabitants of the Tibet Autonomous Region are blind or highly visually impaired. Compared to most areas in the world, this is above average. Climate and hygienic factors such as dust, wind, high ultra-violet light radiation, soot in houses caused by heating with coal and/or yak dung, and lack of vitamin A and D at an early age, contribute to the unusually high number of blind and visually impaired people in this region. A rehabilitation program for the blind and visually impaired is necessary to improve quality of life.

Braille Without Borders is in danger of closing if supporters do not act now. It has endured over the past 19 years due to donations and encouragement from people outside of Tibet. If the school is closed, Tenberken is gravely worried students will be sent to schools where they won’t receive training to become self-sufficient. Supporters can continue to aid the program’s efforts through donations. Learn more ways to help on the official website of Braille Without Borders.

Jeanine Thomas

Photo: Flickr