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Poverty Alleviation Projects

December 4, 2009

Dear Friends:

Welcome to your November 2009 report for The $10 Club.

A recent national survey in the Dominican Republic found that 30,000 blind people live in the country, of which 47.5% lost their sight due to cataracts (others were the result of refractive errors, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy). Blindness from cataracts is surely preventable and a national campaign has been launched to make people aware of steps that can be taken to prevent cataracts.

While 3,000 or more cataract operations should be performed in the country each year, roughly 900 currently are. Cataracts occur at a much younger age there than they do in the United States, because of the increased sunlight exposure and poorer nutrition. This means that a person in his or her 40’s or 50’s may be unable to work and contribute to the economic well-being of the family. Older persons with cataracts may be completely blind, unable to see even to walk across a street.

Many patients suffer from strabismus (crossed eyes) as well, and there are few to no doctors in the country who are able to fix this problem. These patients will be left with no depth perception plus persistent social isolation because of their appearance. Studies have shown that strabismus has a negative effect on a person’s ability to get a job and to be perceived as honest and friendly.

The Casa de Luz (House of Light) group provides medical and surgical eye care to the indigent population of the north coast of the Dominican Republic, primarily for underprivileged children and adults who do not have access to eye care. Through a partnership with the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC and a local charity in country, Island Impact Ministries, an eye surgical mission trip is being planned for early 2010.

This month, 350 of us joined together to donate $3,500 to Casa de Luz to underwrite a vital portion of the costs of the upcoming eye surgical mission. Specifically, our grant will fund: pharmaceuticals including Propofol (for 60 patients), Versed (for 30 patients), Prednisolone injectable (10 vials), Cefazolin injectable (10 vials) and Succinylcholine (for 10 patients); medical supplies including Sterile operating gowns (200), Sterile surgical gloves (4 boxes), Hand-held adjustable temperature cautery (20 boxes), and Strabimus surgery sutures; shipping of Operating Microscope and Keratometer; sunglasses (200 pairs); and reading Glasses (200 pairs). Thank you.

The surgeries and clinical support are performed at the Ricardo Limardo Public Hospital in Puerto Plata, under an arrangement made by Island Impact. Normally two operating rooms are made available to the mission along with various rooms set up as an eye clinic. Each day of the mission, Monday through Friday, the Island Impact staff transports the mission team to the hospital early in the morning and returns the team to the hotel in the evening. The clinic will examine hundreds of patients and provide glasses and medication for those who are in need. The surgical team will perform 40 to 60 procedures during the course of the week consisting primarily of eye muscle surgery, pterygium removals, and cataract surgery. Some additional minor procedures may also be performed.

According to Kelly Hutcheson, MD who coordinates the program, last year the doctors “were again inundated with hundreds of patients who needed everything from reading glasses to complex surgical procedures. We were disappointed to have to turn some people away….”

Sometimes the statistics we deal with in our work are startling; sometimes they are downright maddening. In this case, according to the World Health Organization, “Globally, about 85% of all visual impairment and 75% of blindness could be prevented or cured worldwide.” At the same time, “About 87% of the world's visually impaired live in developing countries.” So with that many visually impaired people living in developing countries is it really any wonder that 314 million people are visually impaired worldwide, 45 million of whom are blind?

Think about the numbers and what could be done with a global commitment to attend to each of these treatable people. If 85% of visual impairment could be prevented or cured, that’s roughly 229 million people who are visually impaired but not blind and shouldn’t have to suffer with a visual affliction. If 75% of blindness could be prevented or cured, that’s more than 33 million people who should be able to see.

I honestly don’t quite know what’s more infuriating than reading numbers of people in the tens of millions and hundreds of millions who suffer and then learning that the overwhelming majority of these folks could be successfully treated. I’m not sure exactly how many people we will help this month. It won’t be 229 million people. But come spring 2010, there will be hundreds of people in the Dominican Republic whose sight is saved because of you. A gift of sight. A ray of light. A real difference. A miracle.

Saving the world, ten dollars at a time,

PS. The holiday season is upon us. Please send in your December donation right away if you haven’t yet, or “re-up” for 2010. And consider giving gift memberships to The $10 Club for friends, family, and coworkers this year. Better than a sweater!?

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