COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Throughout the past several decades there has been extensive data collected to shine a light on the clear association of poverty and blindness. Of the 45 million blind people in the world, 87 percent live in developing countries. This statistic alone proves that there is an obvious link between the two. One organization, Vision Restoration International is working to restore vision by providing cataract surgery around the world, reducing both poverty and blindness.
Economical Effects of Blindness
Blindness has a severe impact on the quality of life. It affects people financially, culturally, socially and economically. About 90 percent of people who are blind are also unable to find work. This, in turn, results in a loss of income that affects every member of the household, including young children. Blind people often need assistance from sighted children or adults. If another adult is the caretaker, they are unable to work and provide for themselves or their own family. If a young child becomes the primary caretaker, the child is often unable to attend school, which means his or her chances of escaping the cycle of poverty are severely reduced. This has the potential to cause a great economic burden on the whole household.
Cataracts continue to be the leading cause of blindness, especially in developing countries. Cataract surgery is the most cost effective solution to curing blindness around the world, but the challenge lies in providing access to the surgery for people in developing countries. Vision Restoration International, a nonprofit organization based in the state of Colorado that was founded less than a year ago, has devoted its purpose to curing blindness from cataracts and restoring lives through performing cataract surgeries around the globe.
Vision Restoration International
A few years ago, Patrick Calhoun, the founder of Vision Restoration International, took a trip to Tanzania with the University of Utah. Over the course of the trip, Calhoun was struck with the overwhelming weight of poverty that these people face every single day of their lives. In an interview that the Borgen Project had with Calhoun, he shared that the Tanzania trip “opened my eyes to the reality of the world we live in and I began the process of starting this organization to make a great impact and be the light in the darkness throughout the world,” says Calhoun.
Being familiar with Ophthalmology, Calhoun decided to make the main focus of his organization curing blindness. Calhoun believes there is no better gift that you can give than sight because ‘this condition [blindness]is a huge contributor in the perpetual poverty that we see in these countries,’ says Calhoun. On these trips, “We are restoring sight to the blind and renewing the lives of not only the patients but their family members as well,” says Calhoun.
Cataract Surgery Trips
A cataract affects vision by clouding the lens of the eye, so in order to be able to see again, the lens must be removed. Cataract surgery removes the lens on the eye and replaces it with an artificial one, after which vision begins improving within a few days. It is a relatively easy procedure with high overall success rates of about 98 percent. Although this procedure is extremely common in the United States, it is not easily accessible in developing countries.
Vision Restoration International specializes in providing free cataract surgeries to those affected in developing countries. The trip is comprised of ophthalmologists, surgical assistants, registered nurses, certified registered nurse anesthetist and clinical support staff. Security is also present when needed. The trip length and surgical numbers vary per size of the team.
According to Calhoun, a large-scale team of about 30 people can perform about 500 surgeries in a week. On a smaller-scale trip, about 250 surgeries will be performed. The trip last 2 weeks in order to provide a week for clinical screening and a week for surgeries. So far, Vision Restoration International has taken multiple trips to Tanzania but has several future trips planned in other countries, including Nigeria, Guatemala, Uganda, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Calhoun hopes to reach many more countries as the nonprofit continues to grow.
Vision Restoration International’s Impact
Vision Restoration International has begun restoring both the vision and the lives of people in developing countries. Not only does the team perform hundreds of surgeries while in the country but they also actively train the doctors in those countries to be able to successfully perform them when they leave because sustainability is one of their main focuses.
Since developing countries lack the funding to acquire the necessary equipment, Calhoun and his team bring it with them. Once the local surgeons prove that they are fully invested in the sustainable program that Vision Restoration International is working to implement, then the team will leave them with all the equipment they need. This way, more surgeries can be performed without them there. This training has the potential to cause a ripple effect throughout the countries and improve both poverty and blindness.
Looking to the Future
Vision Restoration international has an overall mission to, “to support and conduct non-partisan missions, education and informational activities to increase knowledge and surgical skill of ophthalmologists in developing nations,” says Calhoun. Their goal is to create a sustainable program in order for ophthalmologists in developing countries to be efficient enough to take care of their own people. Being a nonprofit organization, trips and surgeries are funded solely through grants and individual donors. They are continually in need of financial funding in order to further their global mission and impact. To learn more about Vision Restoration International or to give, visit www.visionrestorationintl.org
Because there is such a clear link between poverty and blindness, there is much more that can now be done about it. Vision Restoration International is just one of many nonprofits working to better the lives of people in developing nations. With the founding of the organization, Calhoun’s purpose was “to impact as many lives as we possibly can throughout the world.” Through increased support, organizations such as this have the potential to significantly reduce both poverty and blindness in this lifetime.