Lemuel Tebuck lives in a small village in northwest Cameroon, and when he was just four months old his dad noticed that his son’s eye was straying and he couldn’t focus. Lemuel was prescribed glasses but being a young, active child, the glasses kept breaking and put a major financial burden on his family.
Lemuel also had trouble learning. When our team at Orbis International met him, we realized that he suffered from strabismus – crossed eyes. One of our volunteer doctors was able to perform a successful surgery on the then-six-year-old Lemuel to align his eyes. Now nine years old and a bright, shining little boy, Lemuel no longer wears glasses, and his wandering eye and the pain associated with it have subsided.
Catching a problem like this early for a child can avoid the possibility of facing a lifetime of blindness.
There are 285 million people in the world who are blind or visually impaired. For 80 percent of them, their conditions are curable, treatable or preventable, but they don't have access to quality eye health that many of us in the United States take for granted. For example, in Zambia, a country of 15 million, there is just one pediatric ophthalmologist.
Blindness is not only about our ability to see, it touches all areas of human development – social, economic and quality of life.
Most blindness can be detected, and even treated, by vision exams and glasses, but sadly in many places around the world there aren’t enough resources put towards this. For example, elderly people develop advanced cataracts or glaucoma, which means they could lose their eyesight and much of their independence, or a child may never develop sight as a result of their conditions not being detected during infancy so their eyesight never develops. This could rob them of getting an education and leading a productive life. It can trap families in the cycle of poverty.
If children can’t see the white board, it’s hard for them to learn. Many blind children don’t even make it to school and need a full-time care taker, adding further pressure on the family. There is a narrow window in a child’s early development, within the first five years, when their sight is developing. Early intervention is therefore time critical for their visual development. This is why Orbis is so dedicated to children’s eye health and the development and strengthening of the pediatric services in the developing countries in which we work.
Restoring a child’s sight means that they can go to school, learn and live an independent life. Eye health is one of the most cost effective and life-changing interventions in medicine, helping lift people out of poverty.
Bob Ranck is President and CEO of Orbis International, a non-profit that brings the world together to fight blindness and equip developing nations with the skills, resources and knowledge they need to deliver quality eye care to all their people. Calling on a team of 400 expert medical volunteers from 30 countries, Orbis trains local medical teams, both in their hospitals and on the Flying Eye Hospital, emphasizing quality and safety standards for patient care.
To find out more or make a donation visit www.orbis.org.