In the most tumultuous and poverty-stricken country in the Western Hemisphere, maintaining hope and vision for life can be a challenge. Because of chronic political and economic instability, an incredible two-thirds of Haiti’s labor force is without a stable job, forcing the majority of the population to struggle and fail to make even basic ends meet.
The need for eye care in the country is equally overwhelming: 50% of the blind and visually impaired in the Caribbean live in Haiti, and only 8-9% of the patients in need of cataract surgery in the country are operated every year. The eye doctors who could be operating these patients spend long hours every day giving clinical exams and screening potential patients- valuable time that could otherwise be used in the operating room.
Vision Pour Tous
Even in the face of this challenging situation, a group of nine Haitian nurses find hope and vision for the future as they take an unexpected turn in their careers: providing primary eye care to the most vulnerable in their country. In an effort to support local ophthalmologists, increase surgeries in the country, and empower women in Haiti, CharityVision International created “Vision Pour Tous” (Vision for All), a visual health training and screening programme. As part of the programme, general nurses in Haiti are trained to deliver primary eye care and make referrals to eye doctors. The nurses are given on-going training backed by Haiti’s Council for the Prevention of Blindness (CNPC), and then deliver on their skills in weekly screenings throughout the country.
Seeing anywhere from 100-200 people per screening, the results have been intense. Nearly 40% of all patients at the screening needed some sort of intervention – whether it be a pair of glasses, glaucoma drops, or cataract surgery. “There was a lady I met who didn’t know she was going blind from cataract – she thought instead that someone had cursed her,” said Bouloutte, a nurse with a year of experience in the programme. Another nurse commented on a school principal who could not see for years because he could not afford glasses. She said, “It was such a huge relief to him to get glasses and care at an affordable rate, all because we showed up at his school.”
Although the patients are the beneficiaries of the programme, the nurses weren’t shy to comment that they also feel they’ve gained from the experience. Several nurses expressed their excitement about how the programme has made them feel more empowered to make a difference in her country. “I am able to explain to patients what cataract is and how it forms, that there is a solution to their blindness. That is an empowering thing for us to be able to do,” Jinoe, the head nurse, explained. “The training and programme has been a great help to us personally and we have learned so much. We have all had beautiful experiences being the answer to the needs of so many people.” Jemima, another nurse, commented: “This programme brings satisfaction to our lives and into the lives of the people we care for.”
The ophthalmologists in the country are also excited about the programme. “The involvement of the nurses reduces consultation time for us, splitting our workload in half. It’s so much easier to see more patients and focus on surgery,” said Dr. Ritza Eugene, ophthalmologist in Port-au-Prince. “It’s helping us in numerous ways to increase our surgical output.”
The programme was started with a meager $30,000 USD. Every year, CharityVision continues to invest around $15,000, making a portion of that investment back in glasses and consultations, creating sustainability. Political turmoil continues to be a threat to the vitality of the programme. When the country is in survival mode, cancellations, delays and lock-down situations are inevitable. “Regardless, we keep going with the strong belief that things must and will get better,” said CharityVision Country Director Zouti Bernard. “These women are a part of that – they are enriching their country with their love for others and selflessness in their careers. In the face of all the struggles, we honour them for that.”
Despite the hurdles, CharityVision plans to continue the nurses training programme for years to come. “We feel this programme is a pioneer in the country, and although it’s just beginning, we see the impact it can have in the future of eye care in the country,” said Haleigh Perry, Programs Director and writer of the project. “Our goal will always be accessible eye care for all Haitians, provided by Haitians. We can’t wait to see that day.”