Today the word “remembering” is on my mind as we observe Remembrance Day in Canada and many other nations around the world. In terms of Operation Eyesight, that got me thinking about our beginning almost 50 years ago. As our founder, the late Art Jenkyns, listened to Dr. Ben Gullison speak in a Calgary church basement, he caught the vision for a world in which every person could see.
In those days, Operation Eyesight focused mainly on people with cataracts. Cataract surgery is still an important part of our work because cataract remains the world’s leading cause of avoidable blindness. In fact, more than half of the world’s blind people are blind because of cataract.
For a child, being blind means she can’t go to school – and education is the ticket to a better life in the developing world. Blindness for an older person means that he is totally dependent on family for even the simplest things like food and finding his way to the outhouse. In the developing world, a blind woman may be outcast, abandoned by family because she is seen as a burden.
As the countries in which we work develop functional health care systems, hospitals become more efficient and can meet international standards. And strengthening the health care systems is the best strategy to deal with the backlog of cataract cases.
When you donate for a cataract surgery, you’re not only giving a person in Africa or India the gift of sight, but you’re also contributing to the operating costs of that hospital until that hospital is self-sufficient and can cover these costs themselves.
Subsidizing operating costs is important for new partners in India, and for partners in Africa where achieving self-sufficiency is a longer process.
Ultimately, a more efficient, productive hospital means that it will eventually be able to fund the surgeries and other necessary costs itself. That is Operation Eyesight’s goal – strong hospitals and health systems that can operate successfully without any outside intervention. Most importantly, it gets us closer to a world free of avoidable blindness.