A program to rescue 500,000 people from blindness could get a $100 million boost


An estimated 500,000 people could retain their sight if a simple, cost-effective program gets the necessary funding.

As part of its 100&Change grant program, the MacArthur Foundation has selected the Himalayan Cataract Program (HCP) as one of eight semi-finalists to win a $100-million prize. Other contenders include programs reducing newborn illness and educating child refugees.woman cataract surgery

The HCP “will develop and deliver sustainable eye care in Nepal, Ethiopia, and Ghana,” and in the process create a model “that can be replicated and scaled around the world,” the organization explains in its grant proposal.

Approximately 39 million people worldwide suffer from blindness, and 51% of those cases — or just shy of 20 million people — involve cataracts, according to the World Health Organization.

Despite their prevalence, cataracts are fairly easy to treat with laser-correcting surgery. HCP finds local healthcare providers in Nepal, Ethiopia, and Ghana can deliver the procedures for roughly $25 apiece. That’s important: One recent study found 91% of people said cost was the biggest barrier to getting treatment.

Not all providers can be counted on to know how to perform the surgery, however, so HCP has developed a sustainability model known as “train the trainer” to keep costs low. Experts will go into local communities to give eye specialists the tools and technology not just to perform the corrective surgery themselves, but pass on the wisdom to other doctors and specialists.

The training lets HCP keep costs low while also reaching larger groups of people. A grant of $100 million could feasibly reach 500,000 people in the three countries, the HCP proposal states.

Targeting those groups is essential because blindness disproportionately affects people in developing countries. Out of the 39 million people affected, about 90% live in regions where many people live on just one or two dollars a day. What starts out merely as poor vision remains untreated and quickly turns into something more serious.

HCP doesn’t just view the solution as one brought to individuals — in its proposal, it references research that finds tremendous gains to whole communities as members reclaim their sight. Billions of dollars of revenue are lost each year to challenges related to blindness, studies have found.

“The project is expected to bring significant gains to the families, communities, and countries involved and to provide a model for curing blindness in the developing world,” the proposal states.

In a press statement, Dr. Geoffrey Tabin, cofounder of HCP, put the goal in even finer terms.

“The 100&Change grant could enable the Himalayan Cataract Project to reach the tipping point to eliminate needless blindness on a global scale,” he said.

 

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