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Mormon Humanitarian Vision Care in India

mormon-vision-care-projectThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often misnamed the Mormon Church, funds many humanitarian aid programs around the world. One of these examples is their vision care program. More than 161 million people are visually impaired worldwide. A staggering 75 percent of all blindness is either avoidable or treatable, but tragically, a high percentage of those afflicted are helpless about either preventing or treating their condition. The objective of the LDS Church’s vision program is to improve essential eye care services to the poor by supplying technical training, necessary equipment and supplies, and providing organizational support to local eye care professionals.

The Church is able to provide such assistance largely due to ophthalmologists who volunteer their skills and time. Through these programs, more than 180,000 individuals have been assisted since 2003.

In 2009, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped in projects in 23 different countries (Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Vietnam).

A man named Shivdud in Ichoda, India, was benefited by one of the Church’s programs. While looking for a pair of dark glasses, Shivudu received a free eye exam, but he had little money and certainly could not have afforded special treatment. During his eye exam, it became apparent that Shivudu had glaucoma. The shop attendant referred him to a secondary care center where specialists recommended he get laser treatment at the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute.

It is unlikely that Shivudu would have been able to get the care he needed if he had been diagnosed more than a year earlier. A newly trained technician named Venkataramana had only recently acquired the necessary skills through a community clinic program assisted by LDS Charities.

Shivudu received the care he needed and is reaching out to other families in his community, encouraging them to also get eye examinations.

Though many professionals scoffed at the idea of basic training being enough to make a significant difference in rural areas, the project has blossomed under the direction of Dr. Gullapalli N. Rao, an ophthalmologist who was trained in the United Stated, though he is a native of Andhra Pradesh, India. Dr. Rao and his wife have worked hard for 20 years to create dozens of locally staffed, rural community vision centers.

By getting communities involved in these small centers, which are within an hour’s drive of a secondary center, operational costs are kept low. People like Venkataramana are trained to provide primary care. If surgery is needed, then the patient can go to a secondary center.

Dr. Rao’s L.V. Prasad Eye Institute began working with LDS Charities in 2006. Dr. Rao had already planned 20 rural eye care facilities, but by then end of 2012, 100 centers will be up and running. LDS Charities has provided equipment and one-year technician training for 40 of the 100 clinics.

LDS Charities has been helping Dr. Rao because they recognize his commitment to reach out to the rural poor. Because LDS Charities has similar objectives, they partner with organizations who have matching goals to provide the best care for the most people.

The model which the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute has adopted addresses three challenges of quality, accessibility, and affordability. They are hoping this model will be adopted by other organizations as well.

Ike Ferguson, a short-term specialist missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a career full of humanitarian work and has served in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. It is volunteers like Ike who make this work possible.

One of the aspects of all LDS humanitarian projects is the goal to make the projects become self-sustaining. After an initial investment, a community center can usually sustain itself through selling prescription glasses. Where costs are not met, donors usually cover the rest. Support from communities is essential, and it is local philanthropic groups that often provide the necessary start-up costs.

The results of Dr. Rao’s goals have been the past three years, the vision centers sponsored by LDS Charities conducted 91,500 free eye exams, distributed 41,430 pairs of glasses, and referred 9,500 patients to secondary centers. This shows that trained technicians can cover a great deal of the basic needs while experts can cover the rest.