Seeing The Way To Health: Save Your Sight Month

September is Save Your Sight month, dedicated to eradicating preventable blindness around the globe.

Woman sees again for the first time in 10 years following her cataract surgery.

Woman sees again for the first time in 10 years following her cataract surgery.

39 million people are blind worldwide. Eighty percent of visual impairments can be avoided or cured; yet huge numbers of people continue to struggle with serious vision problems. Why? Ninety percent of the visually impaired live in developing countries, where they often cannot access or afford the treatment they need.  (WHO 2012)

Especially in rural areas, blindness severely limits lives and livelihoods. Around Gunung Palung National Park, where ASRI works, most of occupations involve manual labor, leaving few options for the visually impaired. One man at ASRI’s latest round of cataract surgeries had been blind for seven years; he had become so isolated in his remote village that he had not left his house since becoming blind.

Man gets eye exam and new glasses at Clinic ASRI.

Man gets eye exam and new glasses at Clinic ASRI.

Ella with her glasses collection box.

Ella with her glasses collection box.

Knowing this, ASRI is dedicated to restoring eyesight as part of their holistic healthcare mission. Preventative eye care is ASRI’s longest standing tradition: before founding HIH and ASRI, Dr. Kinari Webb distributed eyeglasses to the communities around Gunung Palung. That practice continues today with the clinic’s First Friday. The first Friday of every month, the clinic performs free eye exams to all comers and distributes eyeglasses to those who need them. By offering regular exams and corrective measures like glasses, ASRI can catch eye troubles before they escalate.

This preventative care wouldn’t be possible without the generous donors who provide the eyeglasses ASRI distributes. The Texas Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center donated glasses to Health In Harmony – boxes and boxes full of sight-savers, all of which have now been shipped to ASRI for distribution! Giving the gift of sight inspires people of all ages, including our youngest donor yet. Ella Hahn recently rallied fellow preschool students and their parents to collect glasses for ASRI, which will allow children on the other side of the world to see and study.

Ella’s classmates with the collected glasses (l) and girl receiving glasses at ASRI (r).

Ella’s classmates with the collected glasses (l) and girl receiving glasses at ASRI (r).

ASRI also goes beyond preventing blindness to curing it. Ophthalmologists came to ASRI in 2009 and 2010, and again in 2012 (in late 2010 and 2011, the local government coordinated teams of surgeons to come from Jakarta) to perform free cataract surgeries. In the first round of surgeries in 2009, many of the patients had been blind for 10 years or more, but by our latest round, most had only been blind for one or two years. Slowly but surely, ASRI’s outreach is beginning to help most of the blind patients in the region. The man mentioned earlier, who had been blind for seven years, had not heard about the previous surgeries because his village was too remote. This year, one of ASRI’s Forest Guardians, who work in villages around the park monitoring the rainforest and spreading the word about ASRI’s conservation and health programs, came to his house and told him about the free surgery. He was so excited to be able to get the operation.

Clockwise from top left: Tent, Sterilizing/Break Room, Pre-op, and Nurse Clara poking her head out from the operating room.

Clockwise from top left: Tent, Sterilizing/Break Room, Pre-op, and Nurse Clara poking her head out from the operating room.

The free cataract surgeries are joyous events. They are intensive productions; ASRI’s small clinic must be converted into a space that can handle the hundreds of patients and their families that come flooding in, a process that involves stripping the clinic of its usual furnishings and setting up special sterilization, anesthesia, and operating rooms. The only thing that is infectious is the patients’ happiness! In 2012 alone, we were able to operate on 74 blind eyes in 61 patients. The best part is when patients remove their bandages a day after their surgery. One man, who had been blind for a year, said when asked what he wanted to do now that he could see: “The first thing I want to do when I get home is kiss my wife. I haven’t seen her face in a whole year.”

Patients seeing again for the first time after their surgeries.

Patients seeing again for the first time after their surgeries.

Help us bring the joy of sight back to more people by supporting ASRI’s programs – from the cataract surgeries to the eye exams on First Fridays and the Forest Guardians that spread the word – today.

A big thank you to all the donors and organizations over the years that have supported our eye care programs, and all the volunteers who carried eyeglasses to Borneo!


References: "Visual Impairment and blindness." World Health Organization, Fact Sheet #282. June 2012. 

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About Kelsey Hartman | View all posts by Kelsey Hartman

Kelsey is the Communications and Marketing Associate at Health In Harmony, based in Portland, OR.