Chapter 4 Global

Moving Mountains

Eye Surgeons Making a Difference

The work began ambitiously enough: in the mountainous Himalayas, a vast, remote region with an alarmingly high rate of cataract blindness. The goal of eradicating as much unnecessary blindness as possible in our lifetime has since spread far beyond the Himalayas. Beginning with just two eye surgeons, the Himalayan Cataract Project now funds and facilitates education, training, and equipment for local eye-care professionals across Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Together with its partners, the HCP has screened and examined more than 5.2 million patients from 16 countries and provided over 445,000 surgeries.

Our surgeons and nurses and their teams have proven that hospital-quality — even world-class — standards can be applied in the world's poorest areas, no matter where they're located. Their inventive approach and dogged perseverance have made possible what 20 years ago was considered impossible.

At the core of HCP's work is an audacious goal to achieve high-quality, low-cost eye care that can be sustained in the developing world for the long-term. Today HCP reaches the most unreachable patients wherever its services are needed through a combination of: teaching ophthalmic care at all levels; advancing specialized care through training and skills transfer, country by country, scaled to local needs to ensure that sustainable eye care is in place for the long-term; establishing self-sustaining eye care centers; and performing sutureless cataract operations at a low cost with excellent outcomes, often in remote, rural communities, available to anyone regardless of his or her ability to pay.

We can cure 18 million blind people. In America, we have one eye surgeon for every 18,000 people. In much of Africa, there's barely one ophthalmologist per million. But we have taken the first step. Quality high-volume surgery has spread from mountainous Asia into India, Bhutan, and Tibet. We're bringing the system to Africa. We're using our base in Nepal to train doctors from Africa and all over Asia. We have established training centers in Ghana and Ethiopia. And as we're teaching and expanding, it's important to keep in mind that although the statistics say the number of blind people on our planet is still overwhelming, as we work, we are curing people. Each person is not a statistic. They are individual people who are having their sight restored 100 percent. Who are receiving the gift not only of sight, but of a return to life.

Our cut-off is bullets and bombs. We'll go anywhere else. Not everyone is willing to do that. We have a unique group of public servants. We're willing to go to the ends of the earth."

Jon Heinz, CEO, Himalayan Cataract Project

Blindness in the
Developing World