Reducing Visual Disability Through Affordable, High Quality Vision Care
I just returned from a short trip to El Salvador. The purpose was to follow up on a mission to provide cataract surgery to a group of people in the impoverished Rio Lempa Region south of San Salvador.
I met with the leadership of FUDEM (Women’s Foundation for health and vision), which was started in 1989 by Claudia Quiñónez and David Krasnow, OD of VOSH California. Thirty years ago, the women organizers of FUDEM did a small study and found that poor vision was a common and preventable disability that adversely affected women in poor neighborhoods and regions of the country. By helping women to see they would be helping women to prevent visual disability. At that time El Salvador was still in the throes of a brutal civil war. Because of the political instability, the idea was to create a non-profit, non-governmental organization to provide affordable eye and vision care, especially to the most vulnerable in society.
Now, 30 years later, FUDEM Eye Clinics are going strong. They charge fair and affordable prices for eye exams, spectacles, eye drops, treatments, and surgeries. An eye exam is $7 and single vision glasses are as low as $20, $30 for bifocals. For those who cannot pay, they provide discounts or simply give the service for free. They have eight brick and mortar clinics and do missions to schools and community centers. FUDEM Eye Clinics have been a resounding success and VOSH was a key part of their formation. Greg Pearl, OD, past president of VOSH/International, plans a trip almost every year to help out with their outreach missions. He was just there with another optometrist two weeks ago.
Every 3rd of December the world observes International Day of People with Disabilities. VOSH/International focuses on preventing blindness and visual impairment among those most in need and is proud to contribute with our expertise on low vision, collaborate with ophthalmologists referring patients who require cataract surgery and support the work of local initiatives such as FUDEM.
In addition to FUDEM, in El Salvador another promising institution is The University of San Salvador (UASS) School of Optometry. I met with director Paul Rivera, who is a physicist, and faculty member and licensed optometrist Liliana de Murcia, who studied at the Autonomous University of Aguascalientes in Mexico. They have a 5 year optometry degree program and have five to seven students per year. Many of the graduates end up working at FUDEM eye clinics.
This visit was very productive and an eye opener to the situation of optometry in El Salvador. I hope that in the near future we will be welcoming UASS Optometry as a new SVOSH chapter. We hope to provide advice, equipment, and perhaps some funding for outreach clinics to elementary and high schools. This would be a great opportunity to send a VOSH/International Ambassador to improve knowledge and skills to practicing optometrists and optometry students.
El Salvador has a new government just elected seven months ago that recognizes the importance of primary eye health care. They are eager to reduce visual disability in El Salvador. The time is ripe to continue to build partnerships and ongoing friendships with our optometric colleagues in El Salvador.
For more information:
Greg Pearl, OD (email@example.com ) does one trip to El Salvador every year. Contact him if you would like to help out with a mission, especially if you are an optometrist or optometry student.
J. Daniel Twelker, OD, PhD, FAAO, FVI