Every day, we rely on our vision to help us navigate the world. However, many individuals unnecessarily lose their sight each year from conditions that are preventable and treatable, even here at home. The need for eye care is immense as the number of people in the U.S. with vision problems is projected to double to 24 million by 2050.
Beginning with a pilot program in 2016 – SEE’s U.S. Programs now care for patients throughout the country. In 2018, SEE screened 1,990 patients and performed 25 sight-restoring surgeries through these programs. Since 2017, SEE has provided over 80 sight-restoring surgeries and served over 5,500 patients in the U.S.
Comprehensive Eye Exam Clinics
Through short-term programs hosted at homeless shelters, Indian Reservations, and other organizations, SEE provides resources to low-income families and individuals in need of access to comprehensive eye exams and glasses free of cost. We’re proud to work with many SEE partners and doctors who volunteer their time to these disadvantaged communities.
SEE connects low-income individuals in need of surgical care with nearby SEE partners who can provide access to care. Through short-term programs, these surgical clinics provide sight-restoring surgeries to individuals in need.
All inquiring patients for these programs must apply and meet all qualifications before they are considered for surgery. Please contact us if you are in need of care and think you may be eligible for our program.
VSP Global® Eyes of Hope Program®
SEE is proud to partner with VSP Global® Eyes of Hope® gift certificate program to provide no-cost access to a comprehensive eye exam and prescription glasses from a VSP network doctor for low-income adults and children in need.
Please contact us if you are in need of a comprehensive eye exam and think you may be eligible for our program.
Since 2019, SEE has been working with Dr. John Cropsey to relaunch the Retinoblastoma program in Kibuye at the
Retinoblastoma Center at Kibuye Hope Hospital. We have continued to support Dr. Cropsey in Burundi with other
consumables as well. Since 2017, SEE has organized two programs in Burundi, performing over 400 sight-restoring
Blindness in Burundi
Burundi is a landlocked country located where the African Great Lakes region and the region of East Africa converge.
Though the country gained its independence from Belgium in 1962, Burundi has been wrought with civil wars and
political unrest for multiple decades. It is also one of the poorest countries in the world – with a population of just over
11 million, 66.9% of Burundians live below the poverty line. Moreover, eye health services are not a part of the country’s
national health system, and many people below the poverty line do not have access to basic eye health screenings and
There are an estimated 24,000 Burundians who suffer from blindness and an additional 169,000 who suffer from
moderate to severe visual impairments. The main causes of blindness in Burundi are cataracts, uncorrected refractive
errors, and childhood blindness. According to a blindness survey in the north region of Burundi, 62.5% of all cases of
blindness in the region are preventable
SEE began working at the Banso Baptist Hospital in Kumbo, the second-largest city in Cameroon’s North West province, in 2014. Since 2017, SEE has served 100 patients in Cameroon. We look forward to expanding our efforts in the country.
Blindness in Cameroon
Cameroon is a Central African nation located on the Gulf of Guinea. While the country spends more money on healthcare than many other Sub-Saharan nations, health statistics (including life expectancy) have worsened over the past 20 years.
Cameroonians must pay for health services at the time they receive care. As a result, poor patients are often unable to access affordable medical care. The country also suffers from a severe shortage of medical professionals, making it difficult to offer comprehensive, high-quality care. Citizens are frequently forced to rely on community health workers rather than doctors to receive treatment. Additionally, the fee-based system attracts many doctors to urban areas where they can make a better living, leaving many rural areas without eye care professionals.
Since most patients in Cameroon lack the necessary financial capacity to afford the scarce eye care services, more than 200,000 individuals are blind, and over 600,000 are at a high risk of becoming blind.
Once a year, SEE partners with the organization 1040i in Doropo by providing essential medical supplies used for screenings and services, allowing the clinic to serve patients year-round.
In 2017, SEE hosted three clinics in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), where SEE volunteer doctors provided necessary eye exams to over 1,100 patients and restored sight to a total of 276 patients. Since 2017, SEE has organized 7 trips to Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), performing over 400 surgeries and serving over 2,200 patients.
Read about one of SEE’s programs in the country, where Dr. Kimberly Lovelace successfully restored sight to 7-year-old twin boys, Isaac and Israel.
Blindness in the Ivory Coast
The Ivory Coast ranks 171st out of 188 countries by the United Nations in the Human Development Index, making it one of the poorest countries in the world. Since 1960, it has been beset by a series of dictatorships and civil wars. Therefore, its citizens have very little access to adequate health care, making avoidable blindness a major problem in the country, with approximately 16,000 new cases every year. Additionally, the country saw a resurgence of onchocerciasis, or river blindness, in 2008. This launched an initiative by the World Health Organization called the Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases. The program is currently on track to completely eradicate the disease from the West African nation.
The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness identified the two leading barriers to getting eye treatment in Côte d’Ivoire as a lack of accessibility to services, and a lack of knowledge from its citizens that treatment was available. By increasing access and education to eye care services and sight-restoring surgery, SEE aims to greatly reduce the number of blindness cases in the country.
Democratic Republic of Congo
SEE has been working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 2008, primarily in Boma, Diengenga, and Kinshasha (the country’s capital).
In Boma, SEE partners with Joseph Konde, MD, at the Blindness Prevention Program (Prolhavic) at the Boma Eye Clinic. Each year, Dr. Konde screens about 25,000 patients and performs about 700 surgeries using the equipment and medical supplies provided by SEE.
In 2014, SEE began collaborating with Diengenga Hospital and Ohio-based nonprofit Global Ministries, to organize large-scale sight-restoring campaigns every 2 years. In the first year, more than 4,000 people arrived seeking care.
In July 2017, SEE held an 11-day campaign in Diengenga, where in-country partner Roger Kapembu, MD, and visiting SEE surgeon Kris Karlen, MD, provided free sight-restoring surgery to more than 250 people with cataracts.
In June of 2015, a very special SEE program was held in Kinshasha, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. That year, SEE partnered with NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo and the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, to bring our first sight-restoring campaign to the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital. SEE’s surgical efforts were led by Helena Ndume, MD, of Windhoek, Namibia, and Scott Hickman of Lawrence, Kansas. On this trip to the Congo, SEE’s volunteer surgeons provided 107 sight-restoring surgeries to blind patients. Their efforts helped lay the groundwork for future expeditions and training so that local eye doctors can provide care in the region year-round. Read more about that campaign here.
Blindness in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is located in Central sub-Saharan Africa. Formerly known as Zaire (1971-1997), it is the second-largest country in Africa. It is also one of the poorest and least politically stable countries in the world. Once renowned in Africa for the quality of physicians, the political and economic turmoil of the past three decades has caused the collapse of the country’s health care system.
An estimated 70% of Congolese people have little or no access to any form of health care. The hospitals and clinics that do exist lack trained personnel and equipment, and often run out of critical medicine and supplies.
Cataracts are the largest cause of blindness, but many in the DRC remain at risk from onchocerciasis (river blindness), due to the large number of rivers that flow through the country. With an estimated 800,000 blind Congolese, organizations like SEE are especially crucial in countries like the DRC.
Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland)
With only two resident ophthalmologists in a country of over 1.3 million people, SEE’s programs, and others like it, are absolutely critical in Eswatini. These two ophthalmologists provide the only access to essential eye care for individuals living with preventable blindness and visual impairments in Eswatini.
In 2016, SEE established a partnership with the Luke Commission in Sidvokodvo, focusing on restoring the sight of people suffering from cataracts, pterygium, and glaucoma. Each year, SEE teams host programs that treat more than 100 people in need each year. Since 2017, SEE has been responsible for restoring sight to over 750 individuals in the country.
Blindness in Eswatini
Most of the people in Eswatini live in the countryside and rely on agriculture for their livelihood. For those living in remote communities, it is a challenge to find and travel to an eye care clinic, so many will often go without critical treatment. Additionally, without education regarding the modern treatments that are available to them, they abstain from seeking life-changing surgeries like cataract removal.
According to UNICEF, Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV in the world. This epidemic has left many children without their parents, making them reliant on their grandparents for care and support. Our work to eradicate preventable blindness for this older generation of caregivers is not only has a profound effect on their own quality of life but on the lives of their grandchildren as well.
With almost half of all disabilities in Eswatini being related to blindness or a visual impairment, the government has recently made great efforts to make healthcare more accessible. From introducing braille education into colleges so people can continue their education, to creating a braille telephone directory so everyone has the opportunity to connect by phone, these actions are helping to change society.
Every year, SEE teams collaborate with Dr. Thomas Baah at his clinic, Save the Nation’s Sight, to provide free cataract surgeries to people in Ghana. Additionally, SEE provides support for Dr. Baah to train visiting doctors in the Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery
technique, a procedure that is less invasive and takes half the amount of time as older methods, allowing surgeons to restore sight to a greater number of individuals both in Ghana and worldwide.
In 2017, SEE began working with the Himalayan Cataract Project by providing equipment to be used in Accra at the Crystal Eye Clinic with Dr. James Clarke. Through this partnership, the clinic will be able to provide higher quality eye care to many more patients each year. Since 2017, SEE has performed over 648 surgeries and served over 1440 patients in Ghana.
Blindness in Ghana
Ghana is a country in western Africa, with a history that stretches back to the 9th century. It has a colorful, dynamic culture, and many different native ethnic groups with varying languages. Although the country’s government guarantees basic health care to Ghanaian nationals, it has generally struggled to provide consistent services to all citizens. Urban centers usually have more accessible services than rural areas, which sometimes have no access to services at all. An estimated 40% of the country’s population has little to no access to eye care.
As a result, over 200,000 individuals in Ghana are blind. Over half of these cases are due to cataracts, and another fifth due to glaucoma. These conditions are, in many cases, preventable. However, with over a quarter of the population living over ten miles away from the nearest doctor, and limited options for transportation, many Ghanaians will never get their eyes checked.
The Ophthalmologist Society of Ghana has also recently raised concerns about the increasing prevalence of diabetic retinopathy and blindness due to a rise in the number of people with diabetes in the country.
SEE seeks to not only treat people suffering from blindness but also to strengthen and broaden the pool of eye health professionals in Kenya. We work in multiple locations across the country to provide eye care for those in need. In Juga, we collaborate with an organization called the Gift of Sight to provide care at the Kalimoni Mission Hospital. We also partner with Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Sabatia Eye Hospital in Wodanga, and in-country ophthalmologists in Nyamira. In 2017, SEE’s team of volunteer doctors have performed approximately 200 vital eye surgeries and examined 700 patients in need. Since 2017, SEE has organized 9 programs in Kenya, performing over 550 surgeries and serving over 1,900 patients.
Blindness in Kenya
Although Kenya is the most industrially developed country in East Africa, approximately half of the population continues to live in poverty. The country has been struggling to provide access to health care to its citizens, and only about 20 percent of Kenyans actually have health insurance. This situation is worsened by a lack of health care facilities and doctors. With less than one ophthalmologist for every half a million residents, the country is unable to reach all patients in need of eye care. Rural areas, which account for 80% of the population, are particularly underserved.
According to the WHO, almost a quarter of a million Kenyans suffer from blindness; 43% of these cases are caused by cataracts, an avoidable and often treatable condition. Other leading causes of blindness include chronic blindness include cataract, glaucoma, age-related degeneration, diabetes, trachoma, and pediatric eye conditions.
Blindness is also expected to rise in the coming decade, due to an aging population. For these reasons, organizations like SEE have become extremely important in increasing the accessibility and availability of eye care services.
SEE has been hosting clinics to serve patients in Liberia for over 6 years. As part of our ongoing commitment to developing sustainable and high-quality eye care systems around the world, our volunteer ophthalmologists provide training in the Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery (MSICS)
technique in Liberia. In March 2017, the SEE team trained 15 medical professionals, screened 100 patients, and performed 22 sight-restoring surgeries in Monrovia, Liberia. Training local doctors allows patients in the country to have access to advanced eye care year-round.
Through a partnership with the organization, Hands of Hope, SEE occasionally works in the city of Ganta to provide free screenings and surgeries. Over the years, SEE has performed over 300 sight-restoring surgeries and served over 2,800 patients in Liberia.
Blindness in Liberia
Liberia is a country in Western Africa, bordering Sierra Leone, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast. It was initially established in 1822 as a colony for freed African American slaves. The settlers declared independence in 1847 and created a model of government based on the principles of the U.S. Constitution.
However, foreign investment in the country emphasized resource extraction exclusively, keeping it from developing economically. Furthermore, the Liberian people suffered under a series of dictatorships and civil wars. The country only began to stabilize after a peace deal made in 2003.
Today, the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1% of Liberians, or roughly 35,000 people, suffer from blindness. Cataracts are the number one cause of blindness in the country, with an estimated 17,500 people affected, or 50% of the total blind population. An additional 3% of the total population, or 10,500 Liberians, suffer from visual impairment.
The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare stated that it is committed to expanding its eye health care services by integrating them into county-level and school health services. However, over 50% of Liberia’s population lives in rural areas, where access to health facilities is limited.
SEE has been organizing clinics in Malawi for 20 years, with a commitment to reduce the prevalence of preventable blindness in the country.
In 2017, SEE volunteer doctor Dr. Aisha Simjee provided vital eye screenings to over 40 patients. More importantly, Dr. Simjee helped develop treatment plans with the local staff for the patients and contributed to creating a sustainable means for the patients to receive care in the future.
Blindness in Malawi
Malawi was initially settled by migrating Bantu groups in the 10th century. In the late 19th century, British colonists arrived, turning it into a protectorate of the United Kingdom. After gaining independence in 1966, a one-party state under the presidency of Hastings Banda remained in power until 1994. According to the Human Development Index, it is one of the least-developed countries in the world, ranking 171st out of 189 states, as of 2018. Its population subsists largely on agriculture, with most Malawians living in rural settings.
An estimated 136,000 Malawians suffer from blindness. The African Health Observatory, a sector of the World Health Organization, stated that up to 80% of all blindness in the country is due to preventable or treatable conditions. However, with only four practicing ophthalmologists in the entire country, the majority of the population does not have access to necessary eye care.
The leading cause of blindness in Malawi are cataracts
, accounting for nearly 50% of all blindness, followed by glaucoma
(15%) and trachoma
(15%). As part of the global campaign Vision 2020
, Malawi developed its second National Action Plan for the Prevention of Blindness. However, most of the country continues to have extremely limited access to eye care services.
Gift of Sight
SEE has partnered with Dr. Helena Ndume of Namibia since 1997 to operate clinics in four northern Namibian cities: Rundu, Oshakati, Oshikuku, and Engela. Dr. Ndume’s passion for this work stems from the civil unrest that she witnessed as a child living under the apartheid regime. She received the inaugural United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize
in recognition of her service to humanity. Dr. Ndume
has performed more than 35,000 sight-restoring surgeries in Namibia and around the world, free of charge.
During SEE’s two annual campaigns in the towns of Rngela and Rundu, our volunteer doctors typically screen about 800 people and provide almost 700 free sight-restoring surgeries.
Longtime SEE Doc, Dr. Helena Ndume Makes BBC Women’s 100 List
Namibia’s Miracle Doctor
, Dr. Helena Ndume, is an in-country ophthalmologist who has been working with SEE for over 23 years to provide over 35,000 people sight-restoring cataract surgeries. Read more about Dr. Ndume and her BBC Women’s 1000 List nomination.
Blindness in Namibia
Namibia is situated in southwestern Africa, bordering Zambia, Angola, Botswana, and South Africa. The country achieved independence from South Africa in 1990 after enduring decades of apartheid. Since gaining independence, Namibia has made efforts to reform and desegregate its health system. However, access to healthcare remains an issue. According to the World Health Organization’s Country Cooperation Strategy
, over 40% of Namibians live further than five kilometers from a health facility, and in the middle region of Hardap, 82% of patients reported waiting more than three hours for health services.
In addition to the difficulties with healthcare infrastructure, only 2 ophthalmologists serve the entire country, which is over twice the size of Germany. According to census data from 2011, visual impairment was the second most common disability in Namibia. Almost 30,000 are blind or visually impaired. Furthermore, the 2011 Census Disability Report found that 45 percent of blind Namibians never attended school. Among Namibians with visual impairments, 28 percent had never attended school.
Gift of Sight
SEE launched a partnership with Vision Outreach International in Torodi, Niger in September 2017. Through this partnership, SEE volunteer Dr. Anderson and host Dr. Adamou provide free sight-restoring eye surgery to around 50 patients who suffer from cataracts during each clinic. Since 2017, over 140 individuals have had their sight-restored in Niger.
Blindness in Niger
Niger is a landlocked country in Western Africa that is named after the Niger River. It is one of the poorest countries in the world with two-thirds of its population living on less than $1 a day. The harsh climate, along with poor infrastructure, makes it a challenge to access medical services in Niger, particularly for the people living in rural areas. For those living in remote villages, it is not uncommon to walk over 6 hours for medical attention, which becomes significantly more difficult during the wet season when flooding occurs throughout the country. With only 7 ophthalmologists in the entire country, eye care is extremely limited, leaving almost 440,000 people suffering from avoidable blindness in Niger to never receive proper treatment.
SEE has been hosting clinics and providing free eye care services in Nigeria for over 25 years. We primarily work at the Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital in Port Harcourt, returning each year to host 1-2 clinics.
Since 2017, SEE has organized 14 programs in Nigeria, performing almost 900 surgeries and serving over 1,250 patients.
Blindness in Nigeria
Nigeria is located on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea and is one of the ten most populated countries in the world. It has one of the largest economies in Africa, however, many Nigerians suffer from an unequal distribution of healthcare.
Over 80% of the nation’s ophthalmologists work in urban areas, even though 70% of the entire population lives in rural areas. As a result, ophthalmologists are in short supply throughout the country. There is only one eye doctor available per one million Nigerians in urban areas, and even less in rural areas, leaving many Nigerians without access to eye care services. The 5 leading causes of blindness in Nigeria are cataracts, glaucoma, river blindness, diabetic retinopathy, and uncorrected refractive errors, all of which are preventable conditions with the right medical care.
SEE has had a strong partnership with the Kissy Eye Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone for over 25 years.
In 2016, SEE held an MSICS
wet-lab to train local doctors in the surgical technique, and training was continued in 2017 to develop the skills. Training local doctors in Sierra Leone is part of SEE’s commitment to building a sustainable, long-term eye care system in-country.
In 2017, SEE volunteer ophthalmologists partnered with LDS charities and Dr. Moges Teshome at UMC Kissy Eye Hospital to perform sight-restoring surgeries on individuals in need. In order to build a sustainable means for patients in the area to receive eye care services year-round, SEE also trained local staff and donated the remaining supplies to the hospital to be used by the local team. Since 2017, SEE has performed over 50 sight-restoring surgeries and served 100 patients in Sierra Leone.
Blindness in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is on the coast of West Africa, with Guinea to the north, Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west of the country. The country’s healthcare infrastructure had a slow start due to 11 years of civil war from 1991 to 2002 that hindered its development. In 2010, Sierra Leone launched its Free Health Care Initiative to increase coverage and accessibility throughout the country.
However, the initiative does not include eye care. This became an even greater problem following the Ebola outbreak in 2014, where survivors of the disease were at risk of developing uveitis, or inflammation of the eye and becoming blind. If detected early, eyesight can be restored; however, with only 4 ophthalmologists in the entire country, many Sierra Leoneans did not receive proper eye care.
Due to its climate and location, people living in Sierra Leone are also at risk of getting onchocerciasis, or river blindness.
Each year, SEE International collaborates with the Moran Eye Center to provide high-quality eye care services to patients in Tanzania. Through our programs in Dodoma and Chome, over 900 patients receive free, necessary eye care during each clinic.
In 2017, the team led by Dr. Grace Sun, Dr. Alan Crandall, and Dr. Jeff Pettey held a clinic at the University of Dodoma, where 1,750 patients received screenings and an additional 416 patients received sight-restoring surgeries. Since 2017, SEE has organized 13 programs in Tanzania, restoring sight to over 2,600 individuals and serving 7,650 patients.
Blindness in Tanzania
Tanzania is a country in East Africa that is home to the famous Mount Kilimanjaro. Widespread poverty is common in this country, as 9 out of 10 people live on less than a dollar a day. More than two-thirds of the population also live in rural areas with extremely limited access to medical services. With an inability to afford medical care, many Tanzanians will turn to their local traditional healers, who are not able to treat more serious conditions like blindness.
It is estimated that approximately 300,000 people are blind in Tanzania today. The main cause of blindness is cataracts, followed by corneal scarring, glaucoma, and trauma. A study published through the National Center for Biotechnology Information reported that over a third of all blindness cases in Northern Tanzania are treatable.
SEE is committed to lowering the prevalence of treatable blindness in Tanzania by providing services to those who would otherwise not be able to afford or access the care they need
SEE began supporting Togo with short-term international programs in early 2019. Additionally, we’ve partnered with sight.org in order to increase the number of surgeries we’re able to perform at each clinic. Since beginning this support, SEE has performed over 200 sight-restoring surgeries and served almost 600 patients in Togo.
Blindness in Togo
Togo is one of the smallest countries on the African continent. Located in West Africa, the country has a total population of approximately 7.6 million people – an estimated 4.7 million of whom require treatment to protect against river blindness or onchocerciasis.
River blindness is most commonly spread by the bites of infected flies that breed near fast-flowing rivers. The illness is typically associated with skin complications and visual impairments. Symptoms also include skin rashes, bumpy skin, and eye rashes which can eventually lead to blindness. However, many cases are asymptomatic.
In addition to river blindness, many Togolese people suffer from cataracts, glaucoma, and corneal opacities.
In 2017, SEE volunteer Dr. Shalu Gupta worked with local doctors at Otino Waa Path Ministries and Lira Regional Referral Hospital in Uganda. During a 4-day clinic, the team was able to screen a total of 496 patients and provide sight-restoring surgeries to an additional 36 patients.
The team also provided training to local medical staff on phacoemulsification surgery techniques in an effort to build a sustainable eye care system capable of treating cataract cases year-round. Since 2017, SEE has performed over 120 sight-restoring surgeries and served almost 600 patients in Uganda.
Blindness in Uganda
The Republic of Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa that has struggled with providing healthcare to its citizens for decades. Uganda’s healthcare system faces severe problems due to being under-resourced, poorly managed, and unable to meet the demands of a growing population. This results in low quality and lack of availability of healthcare for many Ugandans.
Based on 2014 population figures, 376,975 Ugandans have some form of visual impairment.
There is a further risk of blindness and visual impairment in the country due to river blindness, or onchocerciasis. In 2006, the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC)
stated that 2,758,366 were at risk of river blindness in western Uganda. A 2015 Onchocerciasis Study in Northern Uganda showed that an estimated 5% of the people in the at-risk areas tested positive for river blindness in skin tests.
SEE launched a partnership in June 2014 with Caring Hearts Pediatrics in the Chongwe District of the Lusaka Province, where we provide essential medical supplies and technical support to patients and medical professionals in Zambia.
In Zambia, SEE continues to work in two main locations: Lufwanyama District Hospital and Chifundo Clinic in Lusaka.
In 2017, SEE’s team was led by Dr. Diedrichsen in Chifundo, where they performed 60 sight-restoring surgeries and screened a total of 375 patients. In September 2017 at the Lufwanyama District Hospital, a team led by SEE volunteer surgeon Dr. Stone provided vital eye care screenings to 500 patients and gave 77 patients free sight-restoring surgery in just 5 days. In total, SEE has provided over 300 sight-restoring surgeries and served over 1,600 patients in Zambia.
Blindness in Zambia
Zambia is a landlocked country located in southern Africa and is recognized as one of the fastest economically reformed countries in the continent. However, the general state of healthcare in Zambia is still quite poor and health facilities are heavily underfunded. Many Zambian doctors leave the public sector to work outside the country or in private health facilities, leaving the public sector with few skilled professionals.
In the rural and remote areas of Zambia, most communities rely on small government-run community health centers and rural health posts. With the leading causes of blindness being vitamin deficiencies, malnutrition, inadequate clean water and sanitation, and lack of access to healthcare facilities, there is a strong correlation between poverty and blindness in Zambia.
Blindness has had a significant impact on the country’s economic and social development, causing the government of Zambia to declare blindness prevention a priority in health care.
In May 2017, SEE held its first-ever clinic in Yerevan, Armenia. While there, we worked with Arpan Global, a charity that provides medical supplies and education to underserved populations around the globe. Our team of volunteers hosted a one-week clinic, successfully restoring sight to 23 people. We also screened an additional 49 patients, checking their eye health, and for any eye diseases. SEE plans to return to Armenia in the future, where we will continue providing free and accessible eye care services for those in need.
Blindness in Armenia
Armenia is a truly ancient civilization. Archeological evidence suggests that people have lived in the region for 325,000 years. Its modern capital of Yerevan was founded thirty years before the original founding of Rome. Its ancient ruins, Medieval churches, and dazzling artwork are legendary.
Since achieving independence from the USSR in 1991, Armenia has struggled to provide healthcare to all of its people. According to the World Health Organization
, many local communities lack access to treatment and medicine. This is especially true in rural areas, where healthcare professionals are scarce.
Children are particularly vulnerable to deprivation in Armenia.According to UNICEF
, two out of every three children lack adequate housing, healthcare, education, access to food, or other necessities. There are three times as many blind infants in the country as there are in the United States. This is because there are too few eye surgeons in the country to treat blindness in general. Moreover, rates of juvenile diabetes and diabetes-related conditions that can lead to blindness continue to rise in Armenia.
Many people also suffer from serious long-term eye trauma due to landmines that are still scattered throughout the country as a result of past wars. However, cataracts are the main cause of blindness in Armenia.
In 2017, SEE launched a program in the capital city of Dhaka. Our volunteers worked with Dr. Munirul Huq to see patients at Bashundhara Eye Hospital. During the program’s very first year, our team was able to screen 300 people who might not have otherwise had a chance to get their eyes checked. 58 of these patients received free eye surgery at our clinic, and had their sight restored!
Blindness in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world with over one-third of its people living below the poverty line. There are very few healthcare services available to all, especially the poor. There are even fewer eye care services, which results in a really high rate of blindness, especially in children. In 2004, the country launched the Bangladesh Childhood Cataract Campaign (BCCC), which set a goal of treating at least 20,000 blind children by 2020. The BCCC is being led by Dr. Mohammad Abdul Muhit, and it is recognized to be the largest campaign of its kind in the world. During the program’s first 5 years, they were able to restore sight to over 10,000 blind children!
However, this campaign isn’t enough to treat the nearly 750,000 blind people in the country. This is especially true for those living in rural areas, who may never get the chance to even have their eyes checked. There are other barriers to getting treated such as a lack of education surrounding treatable eye conditions and negative social stigmas surrounding blindness.
The main barrier to accessing cataract surgery in Cambodia is affordability, which is why the pro-bono surgeries that our doctors provide on SEE’s programs are so vital to fighting blindness.
SEE has been restoring sight to the blind in Cambodia since 2005. Each year, SEE hosts about five clinics in Phnom Penh, the country’s capital and most populous city. During these programs, our team of volunteer doctors restore sight to around 200 Cambodians, primarily children, and screen over 600 patients. Since 2017, SEE has organized 12 programs in Cambodia, performing almost 900 sight-restoring surgeries and serving over 2,100 patients.
Blindness in Cambodia
Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia, bordering Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Much of Cambodia’s medical infrastructure was destroyed during the devastating rule of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. In the years that followed, Cambodia, in conjunction with international NGOs, worked to rebuild and provide medical care throughout the country.
Despite the Cambodian government’s best efforts, there are only 38 ophthalmologists for a population of 15 million, leaving over 40,000 who are completely blind. Additionally, another 57,857 Cambodians suffer from severe visual impairments.
Cambodians over the age of 50 are especially likely to be blind. The prevalence of blindness in that segment of the population is as high as 2.8 percent, compared with 0.38 percent in the general population. The leading cause of blindness in the country is cataracts, which are preventable and easily reversible with a low-cost, thirty-minute surgery.
Given the tremendous need in India, SEE works closely with host doctors Janak Shah and Preeti Shah in Mumbai. Dr. Janak and Preeti Shah have partnered with SEE since the 1990s to run their own year-round clinics. In 2016, Drs. Shah performed 560 cataract surgeries for individuals in need and screened thousands more. In addition to their operation, SEE ran six campaigns in India in 2016, restoring sight to 434 more people. We hold eye clinics in Bhavnagar, Siliguri, Bhojay Kutch, Jodhpur, Kolkata, and Bankrishnapur. Since 2017, SEE has organized 15 programs in India, performing over 1,700 sight-restoring surgeries and serving over 4,300 patients.
Blindness in India
Despite amounting to less than 20% of the global population, over 40% of the world’s blindness population lives in India. This is the result of a severe shortage of ophthalmologists. In a country of 1.2 billion, there are only 15,000 practicing ophthalmologists. The United States, with just a quarter of India’s population, has 20 percent more ophthalmologists.
The National Program for Control of Blindness (NPCB) has made strides to reduce the prevalence of blindness and coordinate efforts to train eye surgeons in India. However, there is still much work to be done.
In 2017, Luc Janssens led a team in Oudomxay Province, where 50 patients received surgeries to remove their cataracts, thus giving their sight back. Of these patients, 3 were children.
SEE maintains a partnership with the Lao Rehabilitation Foundation, offering support for surgical cases. In response to the lack of resources in the country, SEE provides high-quality medical supplies for 50 cases, twice a year. This allows local ophthalmologists to be better equipped to see patients year-round. Since 2017, SEE has organized 7 programs in Laos, performing over 460 sight-restoring surgeries and serving over 1,800 patients.
Blindness in Laos
Laos (officially known as Lao People’s Democratic Republic) is a Southeast Asian country with one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. However, the country continues to have a challenging healthcare situation. Laos has a small private health system, and wealthier citizens usually seek medical care outside of the country. Unfortunately, the majority of its population cannot afford to do so, and many will never get the treatment they need.
In September 2017, the World Health Organization announced that Laos had eliminated trachoma, an eye infection that leads to blindness, as a public health problem. However, cataracts, glaucoma, and corneal scarring are still big issues.
The IAPB reported that there is a serious shortage of ophthalmologists who cannot manage the high number of cataract cases in the country. Also, about 80% of the population lives in rural areas where there is limited access to medical facilities. Due to its mountainous terrain, transportation in Laos is extremely difficult. Outreach programs are the main source of treatment for eye conditions, which is why organizations like SEE International are incredibly important.
SEE has restored sight in Mongolia since 1992. Our first program was led by founder Dr. Harry S. Brown. The team drove 14 hours from the capital of Ulaan Baatar to the remote province of Hovd. There, they screened a total of 472 patients and performed 66 sight-restoring surgeries. To get a first-hand perspective of SEE’s early programs in the country, listen to our podcast interview of Col. John Blashford-Snell.
Through a partnership with the Virtue Foundation
, SEE participates in the annual Virtue Foundation Surgical and Teaching Mission in Mongolia. Our volunteer ophthalmologists, along with doctors of various other specialties, provide services and treatment to patients at the First Central Hospital of Mongolia.
In addition to surgeries and screenings, our doctors provide training for local staff so they can be better equipped to serve patients year-round. Since 2017, SEE has organized four programs in Mongolia, performing over 400 sight-restoring surgeries and serving over 2,000 patients.
Blindness in Mongolia
Mongolia is a landlocked country that shares a border with Russia to the North and China to the South. With a landmass of over 600,000 square miles and a population of just over 3 million, Mongolia has the least population density out of any independent nation on Earth. This makes providing healthcare services to all citizens extremely challenging. Since its population is spread out widely across its territory, many Mongolians do not have direct access to medical facilities.
Surprisingly, the country has 150 ophthalmologists. However, they generally practice in and around the capital of Ulaan Baatar. Consequently, access to eye care services in rural areas remains limited.
Over the years, SEE has established several partnerships throughout Myanmar with a high focus on creating a sustainable, in-country eyecare system. Through a partnership with OHSU’s Casey Eye Institute in Mandalay, SEE provided support for 150 surgical cases in 2017.
Every January, SEE volunteer, Dr. Richard Klein, leads a program which conducts diabetic retinopathy
screenings. SEE supports the program with medical supplies and advanced surgical equipment, used to provide high-quality surgeries to about 60 patients each year. Occasionally, SEE hosts clinics in Hsipaw with the Global Community Service Foundation. Since 2017, SEE has organized 8 programs in Myanmar, performing almost 400 sight-restoring surgeries and serving over 950 patients.
Blindness in Myanmar
Myanmar is a country to the west of China that was formerly known as Burma. There are 135 different ethnic groups with their own languages and cultures in the country, which creates many obstacles for implementing universal healthcare. Myanmar’s healthcare system is a mixture of public and private services, with higher quality and number of services available to the wealthy.
The Department of Public Health is mainly responsible for primary and basic healthcare services. One of the major challenges is reaching patients in remote areas because of a lack of resources and healthcare workers.
In 1984, the government established the Trachoma Control and Prevention of Blindness Program, and since then, prevalence rates of ocular diseases have decreased consistently.
However, it is estimated that about 0.58% of the population still suffer from blindness. That is over 300,000 people! Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the country, followed by glaucoma and corneal pathology. A 2009 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information reported that of all blindness cases in Myanmar, over 90% were avoidable, and 81.9% were treatable. This is why organizations like SEE are so important in Myanmar as they ensure patients are able to get the treatment they need.
Since the beginning of 2019, SEE has had a partnership with the Eastern Regional Eye Programme (ECEC-P) in Nepal, where we directly supply two different sites with intraocular lenses (IOLs). These two sites are Sagarmatha Choudhary Eye Hospital (SCEH) in Lahan and Biratnagar Eye Hospital (BEH) in Biratnagar.
In 2019 alone, SEE performed more than 20,500 sight-restoring surgeries for Nepalese people suffering from blindness and vision impairments.
Blindness in Nepal
Nestled between China and India, Nepal is a landlocked country in South Asia with a nationwide blindness prevalence rate of 0.35% — nearly 100,000 of the country’s 29.3 million people suffer from some form of blindness. More than 80% of the blindness in Nepal is either preventable or curable, however, the vast majority of people in Nepal don’t have access to quality, affordable eye care.
According to recent figures, cataracts are the leading cause of preventable blindness in Nepal, accounting for roughly 65% of all reported cases. Retinal diseases account for 9%, and glaucoma accounts for 5%. Moreover, as of 2015, there are only seven ophthalmologists per million people in Nepal and only two optometrists per million people.
In December 2013, SEE launched a partnership with the Layton Rahmatulla Benevolent Trust (LRBT) Free Tertiary Eye Hospital in Pakistan. During the program’s first year, SEE volunteer Dr. Azhar Salahuddin performed a total of 40 sight-restoring surgeries.
In 2017, the SEE team led by Dr. Salahuddin and supported by host Dr. Sayed Rizvi, held two clinics (in January and December) to provide treatment for patients with cataracts, giving them the opportunity to see again. Since 2017, SEE has organized four programs in Pakistan, restoring sight to over 100 individuals in need.
Blindness in Pakistan
Pakistan, a country to the northwest of India, is the fifth-most populous country in the world. With such a large population, the government has struggled greatly with providing widespread healthcare to its citizens. The World Health Organization reported that Pakistan is listed as one of 57 countries that experience a shortage in the healthcare workforce. With greater demand than supply in healthcare, many cannot receive the care that they need. There are also problems with policy and implementation of healthcare across the country.
One of the greatest challenges that Pakistan faces regarding healthcare is the poor distribution of doctors in rural areas. Most doctors choose to practice in cities and in the private sector, so many Pakistanis cannot afford or access medical care.
Blindness is a serious problem in Pakistan. It is estimated that over 1.5 million people are blind in Pakistan. Approximately 80% of these cases are treatable and/or avoidable, so it is crucial that services be made available to people of all incomes, backgrounds, and ages. The leading cause of blindness in Pakistan is cataracts, which are easily treatable in most cases.
SEE has provided critical eye care and surgery in the Philippines for over thirty years. Our team of volunteers host around 1 to 3 clinics each year in the Philippines. Past locations have included the cities of BayBay, Carles, Pangasinan, Bacolod, and Iloilo. During each clinic, we screen up to 300 patients and provide sight-restoring surgeries to anywhere between 20 to 100 blind individuals.
In October 2018, a SEE team led by Dr. Jeffrey Levenson
partnered with the Philippine Academy of Medical Specialists (PAMS) to provide free sight-restoring surgeries for individuals in need. Since 2017, SEE has organized 7 programs in the Philippines, performing over 1,600 surgeries and serving over 3,000 patients.
Blindness in Philippines
The Philippines is a Southeast Asian country in the western Pacific Ocean. It is made up of more than 7,000 tropical islands, but most of its population lives on just eleven of them. The Filipino government established a universal health care system in 1995; however, it has faced several challenges in creating equal access among its citizens, especially in poor communities.
The Philippines has made great strides in increasing access to eye care, particularly for children. Over the last few years, the Department of Health in the Philippines began implementing a national blindness prevention plan and putting a surplus of money into this cause. In 2017, the government launched a new National Policy on the Prevention Program on Blindness. Their main goal is to increase access to eye care at the local level and strengthening the system as a whole.
Of the over two million blind individuals in the Philippines, the main cause is cataracts, followed by refractive error and then glaucoma.
SEE works with Dr. Duranda Ash from the Ash Eye Institute in Freeport by offering surgical assistance and supplies when needed.
Blindness in Bahamas
The Bahamas is an archipelago in the Caribbean made up of over 700 islands, only 30 of which are actually inhabited. These islands were the site of Christopher Columbus’ first landfall in the New World in 1492. In 1973, The former British colony became a Commonwealth realm, forming its own government but retaining Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state.
Over the past decade, the government in the Bahamas has worked to increase coverage and accessibility of healthcare to its citizens. In January 2016, it launched the National Health Insurance plan. This initiative opened new hospitals and facilities and renovated existing health care centers. However, the healthcare system still disproportionately serves the two largest cities, Nassau and Grand Bahama.
As a result, Bahamians who live outside of these cities still have trouble accessing advanced medical care. With only six ophthalmologists in the entire country, people living on remote islands may never have their eyes checked. Therefore, those most in need of eye care often do not receive it.
SEE International has worked to restore sight in Haiti for over 20 years. Our organization was among the first vision care nonprofits on the ground after Hurricane Matthew struck the country in 2016. In the wake of these natural disasters, SEE continues to give the Haitian people hope by providing sight-restoring procedures and screenings, as well as training local vision care providers. Each year, SEE hosts around 35 clinics in Haiti, treating 50-100 people during each program. Our team of volunteer surgeons treat a number of conditions including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, retinal detachments, and other serious eye conditions. Key program locations include Milot, Cap Haitian, Croix-des-Bouquets, and Port-au-Prince.
In addition to directly providing care in Haiti, our volunteer ophthalmologists train local medical professionals in key ophthalmic techniques such as proper screenings and diagnoses, surgical techniques, and laser treatments. These trainings strengthen the skills of new and veteran Haitian ophthalmologists to run clinics in their respective communities without outside assistance.
Because of the high demand for eyecare, SEE is constantly organizing additional programs to support the needs of the Haitian people. Haiti has become one of SEE’s most frequented countries as we send teams there at least once a month. With SEE’s efforts to restore sight to the Haitian people, they will be able to return to work and support their families, thus strengthening the economy and infrastructure of Haiti.
Blindness in Haiti
Occupying roughly one-third of the Caribbean Island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic, Haiti has the dubious distinction of being the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Most of its inhabitants live on less than $2 a day. The country accounts for an estimated 50% of blindness cases in the Caribbean region due to greater exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. In 2010, an earthquake devastated the country’s already-fragile public health infrastructure, destroying 50 health centers and part of Haiti’s primary teaching hospital. The country also faces a severe shortage of trained medical personnel, with one physician for every 10,000 inhabitants. For these reasons, most Haitians do not have access to basic vision care.
SEE has been providing critical eye care services to communities in the island nation of Jamaica for over thirty years.
Each year, SEE holds at least four programs in the country, restoring sight to between 50 and 100 patients per clinic. In St. Ann’s Bay, our volunteer surgeons work with the Alliance of Jamaica American Humanitarians to treat patients suffering from cataracts and glaucoma.
In Montego Bay, SEE annually partners with Great Shape! Inc. and Volunteer Optometric Services in Humanity (VOSH) International to provide eye care and necessary sight-restoring surgeries.
Blindness in Jamaica
Jamaica is a picturesque Caribbean island known for its lush topography of mountain ranges, forests, and bright beaches. Since declaring independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, the country has dealt with periods of significant economic growth and decline. Health care is free to all citizens and legal residents, but many Jamaicans still do not have access. As the population has increased and aged over the past five decades, the health care system has been facing great difficulties, and rural regions receive little to no care as most people living in these areas do not have access to transportation to reach a clinic.
Almost half of the Jamaican population has never received an eye exam.
Consequently, approximately 27,000 Jamaicans suffer from preventable blindness. Cataracts
, and diabetic retinopathy
are among the leading causes.
The Dominican Republic
Our SEE doctors have been providing free eye care and surgeries in the Dominican Republic since 1997. Our teams collaborate with a variety of local organizations to restore sight throughout the country. Previously, SEE has worked in Barahona with Children of the Nations (COTN), San Pedro de Macoris with Hawaiian Eye, and Santiago with Island Impact. We have also provided vital eye care services in Santo Domingo (the capital city), La Romana, Puerto Plata, and Moca.
Blindness in The Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is the second-largest Caribbean nation. It is located on the eastern part of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti. The country sustains one of the fastest-growing economies in the Americas; the number of Dominicans living in poverty has declined by 6%
in a span of just two years. However, the country spends far less of its GDP on health (1.6%), compared to the regional average (4.5%). Consequently, there are still 33,000 Dominicans with bilateral blindness, the vast majority of whom have treatable cataracts.
SEE hosts clinics on three different islands in Fiji: Viti Levu, the largest and most populous island (specifically Ba province), Vanua Levu, the second-largest island, and Taveuni, a cigar-shaped island, which is occupied by over 6,500 indigenous Fijians.
We held our first program in Fiji in 2005. Since then, SEE has hosted 5-8 programs each year, providing free sight-restoring surgery to over 500 blind Fijians in need. Since 2017, SEE has organized 9 programs in Fiji, performing over 1,000 sight-restoring surgeries and serving over 2,200 patients.
Blindness in Fiji
The Republic of Fiji is an incredibly diverse, colorful island nation in the South Pacific. The country consists of 330 islands, only 110 of which are inhabited, and is spread out over 7,100 square miles (18,300 km). Most of the population lives on the two largest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. For Fijians living outside of these major islands, medical and vision care is highly inaccessible. Visiting an eye clinic might require traveling from one island to another via ferry, which costs about $20 per journey. This might seem small, but the average yearly income for many Fijians is only $17,100.
With about 890,000 people in the entire nation, Fiji’s population is slightly smaller than that of Austin, Texas. However, only seven ophthalmologists serve all 110 inhabited islands. Almost 70,000 residents suffer from blindness, most of which is caused by cataracts. Since most of the population subsists on agriculture and natural resource extraction, blindness is a particularly serious disability.
In 2017, SEE partnered with Canvasback Missions to provide sight-restoring surgeries to 191 patients at Majuro Hospital in the Marshall Islands. SEE provided support in the form of advanced surgical equipment and supplies to ensure that patients were able to receive high-quality care that they otherwise might not have access to. Since 2017, SEE has organized 4 programs in the Marshall Islands, performing over 600 sight-restoring surgeries and serving over 700 patients.
Blindness in Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands is an archipelago country in the Pacific Ocean. There are 24 inhabited islands, yet there are only two hospitals in the entire country – one in Ebeye and one in Majuro. This creates a lot of challenges for Marshallese living on less populated islands who cannot easily access medical care for serious conditions. The World Health Organization reported that one of the greatest barriers to strengthening their health care system is the lack or unreliability of transportation to the outer islands, making outreach teams who visit the outer islands the main source of delivering primary healthcare services. As a result, citizens living in the remote parts of the country have little to no access to care year-round. Quality of healthcare is also difficult to access in general as many areas face a shortage of supplies, equipment, and medical staff.
A major health issue in the country is its highest prevalence of diabetes. Over one-fifth of the population is diabetic, which results in a large number of diabetic retinopathy
cases. With only one ophthalmologist residing in the entire country and no national eye care plan, many will never receive the treatment they need. Patients with the resources to seek treatment do so abroad in Hawaii or the Philippines. Therefore, those who cannot afford to seek medical care elsewhere rely on visiting teams from organizations like SEE International.
SEE has been committed to providing vital eye care services to patients in Micronesia since 2000. In 2017, SEE held two clinics in the country. Through a partnership with Canvasback Missions, SEE volunteer surgeon Dr. James Bainer, completed 73 sight-restoring surgeries at the Yap State Hospital.
SEE frequently partners with the Moran Eye Center, and in October 2017, our joint team was able to provide necessary screenings to 850 patients and performed more than 300 sight-restoring surgeries at Chuuk State Hospital. In addition, the team provided training to develop the skills of local caregivers. Since 2017, SEE has organized 5 programs in Micronesia, performing over 600 sight-restoring surgeries and serving over 1,200 patients.
Blindness in Micronesia
Micronesia consists of 600 islands that span over an area of the Pacific Ocean that is five times the size of France. There are four public hospitals in the entire country, but only people living near those four cities have direct access to them. Overall, the country is recognized to have a better healthcare system compared to other countries in the Pacific.
However, there are very few eye care services available in Micronesia. The country doesn’t have a single ophthalmologist, so patients with severe eye conditions are referred to Hawaii or the Philippines and must pay for their own travel and procedures, which many cannot afford. Therefore, the majority of Micronesians suffering from blindness and vision impairment are only able to receive care when a medical team visits from out of the country.
The main causes of blindness in Micronesia are cataract and diabetic retinopathy, which are treatable and/or avoidable in most cases.
In 2017, SEE held two clinics in Palau. The first was a collaboration with Hawaiian Eye Foundation at the Palau Government Hospital, where 71 patients received sight-restoring surgeries, and another 325 patients had vital eye screenings. In September 2017, SEE volunteer ophthalmologist Dr. Jeffrey Ing performed 15 surgeries and an equal number of screenings, providing patients with treatment and care that they otherwise would not have had access to. Since 2017, SEE has organized 7 programs in Palau, performing over 300 sight-restoring surgeries and serving over 1,000 patients.
Blindness in Palau
Palau is a country in the western Pacific Ocean, made up of approximately 340 islands. It has a publicly-owned healthcare system that is largely funded by taxes and grants from the United States. Palau has only one central hospital located on its most populous island, Koror. Although there are some primary care centers scattered throughout the country, people living in remote areas of Palau have great difficulty accessing medical care.
One of Palau’s biggest challenges is the serious shortage of qualified healthcare workers. In addition, the majority of those already working are underprepared. This presents serious problems with the quality of healthcare that patients are receiving.
Palau does not have a single ophthalmologist residing in the country. Patients with serious eye conditions must travel outside of the country to receive treatment. However, many cannot afford to do so, therefore rely on foreign doctors and organizations, such as SEE International, to host clinics in the country.
Since 2001, SEE volunteer Dr. Baxter McLendon has been working in Belize to provide free screenings and sight-restoring surgeries to individuals in need several times a year.
For about a decade, SEE has been partnering with the Belize Council for the Visually Impaired, a nonprofit organization committed to providing affordable and accessible eye care at five locations around the country. Through this partnership, SEE provides essential medical supplies needed for performing advanced sight-restoring surgeries. One of the main sites is the Belize Council for the Visually Impaired.
In January 2017, SEE held a program in Belize City, where volunteer surgeons performed the MSICS
technique to restore sight to 75 patients blinded by cataracts. Since 2017, SEE has organized 11 trips to Belize, performing over 600 surgeries and serving over 1,000 patients.
Blindness in Belize
Belize is a country in Central America with a large coastline on the Caribbean. More than half of the population lives in rural areas, where there is little access to health care services. Due to low accessibility and quality of medical care, citizens seek healthcare services outside of the country if they are able to.
are the leading cause of blindness in Belize, followed by glaucoma
and diabetic retinopathy
. In 2010, the Pan American Health Organization and the Ministry of Health teamed up to create a National Eye Health Plan to address the growing issue of blindness and help restore sight to individuals in need. However, with only ten ophthalmologists living in the country, many citizens rely on organizations like SEE to receive vital eye care services.
SEE has been working in Montero, Bolivia since 2001. Every October, SEE teams hold annual sight-restoring campaigns with local ophthalmologists in Montero to provide free care to individuals with cataracts. Key locations include San Juan de Dios Hospital in Tarijam. Since 2017, SEE has organized 16 trips to Bolivia, performing over 1,400 surgeries and serving over 8,000 patients.
SEE also collaborates with I Care San Antonio and Medical Ministry International. We hold joint clinical and surgical campaigns to treat various pediatric and adult eye conditions in Sucre and Tarija. During these clinics, teams of six surgeons provide free cataract
, and pterygium
surgeries for nearby patients.
Thanks to the support of SEE’s donors and generous volunteers, hundreds of individuals, predominantly from the country’s disadvantaged indigenous population, have had their sight restored.
Blindness in Bolivia
Bolivia is a landlocked country located in central South America, bordered by Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Paraguay. As one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, most Bolivians do not have access to clean water or sanitation, let alone health care or health insurance.
Like other developing countries, eye care is primarily available in large cities and urban areas in Bolivia. Accessibility for the poor is a major challenge, particularly for those living in remote areas. Transportation and related costs pose major obstacles to accessing health care services.
SEE partners with I Care San Antonio and Medical Ministry International to hold a two-week joint clinical and surgical campaign every January in Colombia. On these campaigns, four to six surgeons perform a range of sight-restoring surgeries on up to 400 patients. These include cataract removals, correction of strabismus, and pterygium removal. Key locations include Clinica de Especialistas Guajira LTDA in Riohacha. Since 2017, SEE has organized 5 programs in Colombia, performing over 1,000 sight-restoring surgeries and serving over 5,000 patients.
Blindness in Colombia
Colombia is located at the northern tip of South America, sharing a border with Panama. The country has greatly increased its health expenditure in order to extend health care coverage to more citizens. However, accessibility and quality of services still need improvement. Rural residents continue to suffer from very limited access to healthcare.
In 2011, Colombia became the first country in the Americas to eliminate onchocerciasis, or river blindness, the second-leading infectious cause of blindness globally. Unfortunately, there are still over 860,000 people who suffer from blindness, mostly due to cataracts. The main barriers to receiving treatment include the cost of surgery, a lack of knowledge that treatment is possible, and poor program management.
In 2016 and 2017, SEE held two expeditions to Nicoya, Costa Rica, treating more than 75 individuals with cataracts during each campaign. SEE’s efforts in Costa Rica are led by SEE volunteer ophthalmologists Dr. Katerina Kurteeva, Dr. Lisa Martin, and Dr. Kristin Burwick. 2017 is SEE’s first year collaborating with Celina Rotary Club of Ohio, which organizes and transports medical supplies to the main site at Hospital de la Anexion de Nicoya. Since 2017, SEE has organized 6 programs in Costa Rica, performing over 200 surgeries and serving almost 300 patients.
Blindness in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a rugged, rain-forested Central American country, with coastlines on the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. The government provides universal health care to its citizens and permanent residents, making it the best public health system in Latin America, according to the U.N.
However, the country’s medical infrastructure is overburdened and has a severe shortage of physicians. Only 134 ophthalmologists are available to serve a population of almost 5 million people. Because of this, doctors primarily work in major cities, and rural communities suffer. As a result, many poor people outside of major cities have never received any form of eye care.
SEE has been providing eye care for underserved individuals in Ecuador for over 15 years. Since 2017, SEE has organized 40 programs in Ecuador, performing over 2,000 surgeries and serving over 7,000 patients. Key locations include San Lorenzo Clinic (San Lorenzo), FUNCRISA (Guayaquil), Clinica Fibuspam (Riobamba), and El Cielo para los Niños (Guayaquil).
In Guayaquil, SEE has partnered with Fundación Cristiano para la Salud to equip their clinic so that they are able to provide high-quality care year-round. Through a partnership with Vision Outreach International, we host an annual program in San Lorenzo to provide free surgeries and eye screenings. Oftentimes, these free clinics are the only opportunity for many patients to get their eyes checked and receive treatment.
SEE also has a strong partnership with FIBUSPAM in Riobamba. Each year, we host four to five clinics, where our teams treat about 200 children and adults for a wide range of cases including cataracts, corneal transplants, and oculoplastics.
Blindness in Ecuador
Ecuador has a strong national health care system that provides free medical care to all residents regardless of income. Almost two-thirds of the population relies on public health programs. However, many of these programs do not cover eye care.
An estimated 30,000 Ecuadorians suffer from blindness. Most of these cases are due to cataracts and glaucoma, which are often treatable and/or avoidable. However, since health care programs do not cover eye care, the majority can’t afford treatment on their own. Additionally, many of those who are blind live in remote communities that are hard to reach. This creates a huge challenge for them to travel to eye care clinics or even find information about the possibility of getting treated.
SEE has been providing free eye services throughout El Salvador since 1992. In 2017, SEE held 3 expeditions in the country – specifically in Santa Ana, Santa Tecla, and Perquín. These programs treated hundreds of patients and provided them with free cataract
, and pterygium
In Santa Tecla, SEE collaborates with PeaceHealth/Paz Salud to provide sight-restoring cataract surgeries and other eye treatments at Hospital Nacional San Rafael. SEE also collaborates with Eye Care International to provide care throughout El Salvador. Since 2017, SEE has organized 12 trips in El Salvador, performing over 1,000 surgeries and serving over 19,000 patients.
Blindness in El Salvador
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America but has the highest population density. Before the 15th century, it was home to the indigenous Lenca and Olmec civilizations. The Olmecs left behind stunning architectural marvels in the country’s Western regions. The Salvadoran health care system is still recovering from the brutal civil war that took place from 1979-1992. As a result, the government has struggled to provide high-quality medical care throughout the country. While basic eye care is available in large cities like San Salvador, smaller towns and villages are often isolated, and residents cannot access care. Consequently, over 120,000 Salvadorans are blind, with the majority suffering from treatable cataracts.
SEE is committed to delivering high-quality eye care to underserved citizens in Guatemala throughout the year. Since 2017, SEE has organized 16 trips in Guatemala, performing over 800 surgeries and serving over 7,000 patients. Our main site is located at Hospital Nacional de Amatitlan in Villa Nueva.
Blindness in Guatemala
Guatemala is a Central American country that shares its northern border with Mexico. Although it has the biggest economy in Central America, it has one of the highest rates of inequality amongst classes. Rural areas face extreme rates of poverty, malnutrition, and maternal-child mortality. The health care system has partially recovered since the bloody civil war that took place from 1960-1996. However, the poor still have great difficulty accessing and affording basic medical care. Modern healthcare facilities are only located in urban areas, so those living in the outskirts rely on poorly equipped clinics or traditional healers. When those living in rural regions develop a serious condition, it is extremely difficult to travel to cities for treatment.
In 2016, Guatemala became the fourth nation in the Americas to eliminate river blindness, also known as onchocerciasis. Unfortunately, blindness is still a huge health problem as the leading cause of blindness in Guatemala is cataracts. A study published on the National Center of Biotechnology Information reported that the main barriers to receiving treatment were lack of knowledge that treatment was available, not being able to afford surgery, and fear of surgery.
SEE has worked throughout Honduras for over 20 years, helping make eye care affordable by providing free ophthalmological services across the country. Since 2017, SEE has organized 97 programs in Honduras, performing over 5,000 surgeries and serving over 17,000 patients. Teams regularly work in La Ceiba and Tegucigalpa, the nation’s capital. With the help of our in-country partner Dr. Ricardo Rivera, who specializes in corneal transplants, strabismus, and oculoplastic surgeries, SEE has also established a new clinical site in Roatan, one of the country’s Caribbean Bay Islands.
SEE also partners with Centro Cristiano de Servicios Humantarios de Honduras (CCSHH) to provide care and develop sites in the El Progreso region, as well as in nearby rural locations. In El Progreso, SEE offers cataract, strabismus, oculoplastic, and cornea surgeries, and is also a location of SEE’s pilot site for diabetic retinopathy
treatment. Manos Amigos, another SEE partner, provides facilities for CCSHH and SEE teams to restore sight in the La Entrada area.
Blindness in Honduras
Honduras is a Central American country located next to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Before its colonization by Spain, the Mayan civilization built stunning cities and temples throughout the region. Today, according to the World Bank
, 66 percent of the nation’s 8 million residents live in poverty. The country faces the highest level of economic inequality in Latin America. As a result, many Hondurans cannot afford basic eye care, and many of them become unnecessarily blind.
Due to the country’s proximity to the United States, SEE has been able to establish many relationships to provide regular sight-restoring care and support many local doctors in Mexico for over 40 years! Since 2017, SEE has organized 100 programs in Mexico, performing almost 5,000 sight-restoring surgeries. Key locations include Tecate, Guaymas, Tuxtla, Jerez, San Quintin, Xocempich, Tijuana, and Zihuatanejo. Dedicated SEE volunteers like Dr. Jim Conahan
, Dr. Vyas, and Dr. Snow visit clinic sites multiple times each year, building lasting relationships within the community.
Additionally, SEE has established partnerships with many local organizations to expand our work in Mexico. For instance, Rotary Clubs in the towns of Celaya and Morelia partner with us to lead local sight-restoring campaigns. In order to increase access to care, Clinica Liga International in El Fuerte and the Lions Club of Meoqui have partnered with SEE to work with in-country ophthalmologists to provide prescreening and other optometric services for these clinics. SEE Volunteer Dr. Villasenor has traveled to El Fuerte in partnership with Clinica Liga International a total of 17 times in 3 years, performing almost 750 surgeries and screening almost 1,000 people. SEE also cooperates with the Asociación de Padres de Niños Mentalmente Inhabilitados, which is led by dedicated SEE volunteer Dr. Kenneth Turley. This partnership provides necessary cataract
and other eye surgeries to the people in Nuevo Casas Grandes twice a year.
SEE is very grateful to all of our partners
who collaborate with us to restore sight and transform lives.
Blindness in Mexico
With a population of over 127 million, Mexico is the most populous Spanish-speaking nation in the world. The country has made tremendous strides in combating some forms of preventable blindness. In April 2017, it became the first country in the Americas
to eliminate trachoma, an eye disease caused by bacteria that leads to scarring and vision loss.
However, other diseases remain prevalent. More than half a million people in Mexico are completely blind from cataracts
, macular degeneration
, and diabetic retinopathy
. An estimated 2.3 million people have cataracts, leading to $33.2 million in productivity losses. According to the World Health Organization, over 10% of the population suffers from diabetes
. Consequently, rates of blindness caused by diabetes are expected to skyrocket in the near future.
SEE hosts several clinics in Nicaragua every year to ensure underserved individuals have the opportunity to receive high-quality eye care services. In 2017, SEE launched a partnership with Foniprece, a nonprofit ophthalmology clinic. During the first year of the program, SEE supported two clinics where over 500 patients received vital eyecare, and 50 received free sight-restoring surgeries.
Additionally, SEE held 2 clinics in Managua led by Dr. John Pajka. The team completed a total of 282 screenings and 289 surgeries. They treated patients with cataracts, corneal scarring, and strabismus, restoring their sight and giving them hope for brighter futures. Since 2017, SEE has organized 5 programs in Nicaragua, performing over 300 surgeries and serving over 800 patients.
Blindness in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America and has a multi-ethnic population. Due to decades of internal conflict caused mainly by the Somoza dictatorship, the country has struggled with providing healthcare to all its citizens. In recent years, however, the Ministry of Health has made enormous strides in expanding its network of services by increasing the number of health facilities and basic health centers across the country.
There have been no comprehensive studies to determine the number of blind people living in Nicaragua. However, it is known that the main causes of blindness are due to age-related conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma, which are treatable in many cases. Unfortunately, due to a lack of education surrounding the issue, especially in rural regions, most Guatemalans will continue to live their lives needlessly blind. Additionally, many children and adults will never get their eyes checked due to a lack of eye care facilities available, especially for the poor. This has serious consequences on children’s education and overall quality of life.
For over 10 years, SEE International has been participating in a program called Cataratón in Panama. During this 2-day marathon, local and international volunteer ophthalmologists perform back-to-back sight-restoring surgeries at the Centro de Cirugia Ocular. In 2017, the SEE team was led by Dr. James Burcham, and 119 patients received free surgery and vital eye care.
Additionally, in 2017, SEE hosted a clinic in the city of Darien, where the team provided essential eye screenings to 1,800 patients and completed 253 sight-restoring surgeries. Since then, SEE has organized a total of 9 programs in Panama, performing over 1,500 surgeries and serving almost 6,000 patients.
Blindness in Panama
Panama is the southernmost country in Central America. It has been experiencing the highest economic growth in all of Latin America, but unfortunately, the healthcare system is still very inefficient and inaccessible to the majority of Panamanians. Modern medical facilities are only available in the capital of Panama City, creating severe challenges for those living in rural areas when they seek treatment for serious conditions.
Additional barriers to healthcare accessibility in Panama are poor education and low levels of public awareness. Many Panamanians do not know that some conditions of blindness are treatable, like cataracts, glaucoma, and pterygium. 66.4% of all blindness cases in Panama are due to unoperated cataracts. Sadly, most will not seek treatment and continue living needlessly blind.
SEE has been working throughout Peru for more than 15 years, serving the indigenous population and others in need. Clinic sites include Huamachuco Ayacucho, Piura, Juliaca, Pisco, Calca, Coya, and the Urubamba Valley. Every summer in Ayacucho, SEE collaborates with I Care San Antonio and Medical Ministry International to hold a two-week joint clinical and surgical program. During these clinics, surgeons from the US, Canada, and Peru perform primarily cataract and pterygium sight-restoring surgeries for hundreds of adults and children. Since 2017, SEE has organized 23 trips to Peru, performing over 1,300 surgeries and serving over 8,000 patients. SEE volunteer surgeons treat patients with a variety of conditions including strabismus, cataract, pterygium, retina, and other surgeries for the local adult and pediatric patients in Peru, providing advanced medical care that these patients would have otherwise not received.
Blindness in Peru
Peru is located in western South America and is home to Machu Picchu, the famous Inca citadel in the Andes Mountains. In the late 20th Century, Peru’s health care system collapsed due to an internal conflict that led to economic instability. Since then, the country has taken many steps to improve its healthcare system. However, for 40% of the Peruvian population still living in poverty, healthcare is almost impossible to afford. While cataracts
are the main cause of blindness in Peru, increased sun exposure due to the high elevation causes a variety of other conditions. For example, pterygia, a condition that can cause blindness without proper treatment, is prevalent in people living in regions with sunny or windy climates.
Indigenous peoples comprise about 45% of Peru’s population and mainly live in rural areas with little to no access to health care, let alone vision care. They often use traditional medicines to treat their illnesses, some of which can damage the eye permanently. Reaching these communities is very important so that they learn about the proper care that exists and can be made available to them. With over 620,000 Peruvians suffering from blindness, the country is in high demand for more comprehensive eye care programs and training centers that focus on reaching underserved communities.