August 2014 was a good month for the people of Kisumu, a port of 400,000 inhabitants in Kenya, which was visited by a team of ophthalmologists from Alicante.
The doctors, led by José Luis Rodríguez Prats were there to perform over 200 eye surgeries in the Shalom Hospital to combat cataracts and glaucoma in an area where such advanced treatment is scarce.
Working at a rate of 20 patients a day in operations lasting some 20 minutes each, the team, assisted by local ophthalmology students who had a unique opportunity to witness and learn the latest techniques, brought a ray of light to a corner of the world that is normally only remembered for bad news.
The scheme was part of the ongoing voluntary work carried out by a group of Alicante doctors called Visio Sense Fronteres and Stop Ceguera, in colboration with the NGO Embracing the world Kenya and the Valencian opticians’ chain Grupo Oftalvist.
In October 2014 there is also some light at the end of the tunnel for the people of Togo, who will be the next recipients of the generously donated skills of these doctors.
The Valencian NGO ‘Visió Sense Fronteres’ (VSF), with its base in Alicante has been working for many years now in countries such as Cuba, India, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Peru, Burkina Faso and Namibia to help people see better, or to see at all!
In 1998 a small group of friends had the idea to help people in need who, due to their poverty, unfairly lack something rather basic: the capacity to see:
“Vision is the basis of learning.
To be left blind means depending on others”
VSF is an NGO (non governmental organisation) with an international remit which encourages development through health and sight promotion and other activities related to international co-operation.
The principal objective of its work is to prevent avoidable blindness. This includes the treatment of ocular illnesses as well as the correction of vision by the use of glasses. The team consists of volunteers, whose qualifications stem from optometry, ophthalmology, specialist technicians and assistants.
Although the NGO is a relatively new organisation, it has already travelled far. In 1998 they visited India. 650 people were examined and their pathologies were treated. In the following years until 2001 the team worked in Marrakech and Tetuan. 3,856 patients were treated and 3,400 people were given help with glasses.
They continued in Namibia, Mozambique and Cuba and after the Tsunami again in India. So far VSF has treated more than 25,000 people and has been able to give them a long lasting solution. At the beginning of each Project VSF has accurate information about the situation and the needs of the area. Generally, there is a great deal of interest.
Depending on the size of the town or area, large queues can form in front of the centre where they work.
The diagnostic material is totally financed by private donations.
Ocular pathologies like cataracts and glaucoma are detected and treated in situ.
The medicines are completely financed through donations. The young population is also examined for loss of sight. 60% of the patients are under 18 years old.
VSF places great emphasis in the infant population, as good vision will play an important part in the development of the young people.
By helping, donors to VSF give people the base to help themselves. In third World countries it is only by having good sight that a higher level of education can be achieved. 60% of what someone learns is through the eyes, for example, reading at school or in later studies. For this reason, the capacity to see must be connected with the development of the individual.
Without donations VSF would not be able to help in this way. Although the organisation uses their professional contacts, collecting used glasses from opticians and working with the manufacturers of glasses the task requires the purchase of technical materials and medicines.
A test and treatment cost an average of 30€.
Nowadays 300 members and donators permanently support and finance VSF and the team consists of more than 40 volunteers.