In the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for stability and sustainability weighs heavily, especially on low-income countries. People with vision loss are 17% more likely to suffer from depression. For individuals suffering from visual impairment, the destructive and disruptive effects of the pandemic greatly exacerbate this struggle as they are unable to receive care, work, and provide for their families.
Of the 2.2 billion people around the world struggling with vision impairment, 1 billion of those cases could be prevented or are yet to be addressed (WHO, 2019). Sight is the most critical of the five senses, providing individuals the opportunity to lead a fulfilling, self-sustaining life. When one struggles with debilitating blindness, they lose more than vision. Without the ability to work and gain an education, they are left vulnerable to poverty, malnutrition, and abuse.
Many have heard the proverb, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day; If you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” Dr. William Jackson, founder of nonprofit CharityVision International, takes the adage one step further, recognizing that, “Most doctors know how to fish in their own ponds better than we do.” Unlike other U.S. medical NGO (non-governmental organization) models based on temporarily importing US physicians to developing countries, CharityVision develops local teams of surgeons in each country to perform the surgeries, builds facilities, provides medical supplies (through donated surplus from the U.S.) and assists the surgeons in establishing clinics. Enabling localized surgeons builds a strengthened network of health service systems in the community and fosters a sense of community ownership and accomplishment, fusing humanitarian work with an improvement in medical capacity.
With the rise of COVID-19, these strengthened medical networks have become an added lifesource to communities worldwide. With clinic use limited and many countries completely locked down, these teams of healthcare providers have found new ways to continue promoting health and wellness to community members who are scared, struggling, and stuck at home.
One such team was led by CharityVision Country Director Malik Salahuddin from Pakistan who organized efforts to distribute grocery and sanitation kits to the community. Once pandemic restrictions lessened, charitable eye screening camps were held in several towns including Balakot, Nokot, Thakot, and Bakki to provide donated glasses to individuals who had lost access to care during the COVID-19 crisis. In the meantime, Dr. Muhammad Junaid, Medical Director of Mehboob CharityVision International Eye Hospital, has worked tirelessly to open a new optometry clinic in the Abbottabad District which was inaugurated August 5, 2020.
In Odisha, India, the Trilochan Netralaya Clinic distributed dry rations to over 350 migrant laborers from other states now stuck in the city of Sambalpur due to COVID-19 lockdown. In the United States, the CharityVision warehouse turned their efforts to local hospital groups, providing over $1.3 million dollars worth of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other supplies to combat the COVID-19 surge within the U.S.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how some medical services are being delivered. In compliance with the New Normal policy, CharityVision partners in the Philippines and El Salvador are conducting virtual screenings for cases that can be addressed online. New software allows patients to use virtual visual acuity tests and continue to receive unique, individualized care while complying with local pandemic restrictions.
While the organization’s mission continues to focus on putting an end to curable blindness, CharityVision’s unique sustainability model has equipped countries with skilled, committed teams of local healthcare professionals who have brought hope, light, and stability during the unique and unprecedented struggles of the COVID-19 pandemic.