The World Health Organization, in conjunction with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness has established the treatment and prevention of blindness as a global priority. Thirty-seven million people are blind with 124 million others suffering from seriously impaired vision. Someone goes blind every five seconds. A child goes blind every minute. Seventy-five percent of these cases are avoidable - either by prevention or treatment. As you would expect, the causes of avoidable blindness are most often associated with poverty and lack of basic eye care services. Ninety percent of the blind people world-wide live in developing nations. Yet prevention and treatment of vision loss are among the most cost-effective and successful of all health interventions.
Unfortunately, the only eye care available for most of the population in Northern Honduras is provided by non-professional missioners. Therefore, it is important that we be the best amateur vision care providers possible so that we can detect and treat or refer patients before their vision loss is irreversible. All AHMEN vision teams are encouraged to join together and participate in an expanded program to serve the people of Honduras.
Eye Care has been an integral part of many AHMEN medical brigades since AHMEN’s inception some fifteen plus years ago. Initial efforts focused primarily on distributing reading glasses and, when needed, building prescription eye glasses using the focometer and instant eyeware technologies developed by Dr. Ian Berger of Houston, TX.
Beginning in 2006, an effort was made to expand and improve the eye care program by employing a table top autorefractor, puff air tonometer, and lensmeter, graciously donated by Lombart Instrument of Norfolk, VA, and Vision Systems, Inc. of Tarpon Springs, FL. Shortly afterward, the AHMEN eye care program partnered with Kendall Optometry Ministry (KOM) in Louisville, KY, and with Drs. Luis and Alicia Ponce, ophthalmologists in La Ceiba, Honduras. KOM is the primary provider of the field equipment including a hand-held Retinomax and computerized system for optimizing the best fit glasses from a systematic inventory of used prescription glasses. The Drs. Ponce provide care in emergencies as well as screening and referrals for eye surgeries to the SEE International team from New York, which comes annually to La Ceiba.
This program builds upon the already established base of service to add emphasis upon preventive education, pre-screening and referrals of individuals needing advanced medical treatment and/or surgery, and on empowering local Hondurans to provide much of the needed assistance. Standard protocol for the eye care clinics includes screening for eye diseases and abnormalities, testing both near and far visual acuities, fitting ready and prescription glasses when needed, and distributing sunglasses and eye health education literature. Patients whose needs exceed what we can provide are referred to the Drs. Ponce. The evangelism component of many AHMEN teams offers prayer and consultation with each eye clinic attendee and gives Bibles to all.
The AHMEN eye care program has served the indigenous peoples of northern Honduras in the villages of and surrounding La Ceiba, EL Pino, Belaire, Belfate, Limon, Icoteas, Cusuna, Punta Piedra, Ciriboya, Tocamacho, and Pueblo Nuevo; in the central highlands in La Union and Yorito; in La Mosquitia in Bélen; and on the islands of Utila and Roatan.
Between mission trips there is the constant “behind the scene” activities that give our eye care program such success. Collecting usable glasses is an ongoing process. Reading glasses and sunglasses, if not donated, are purchased. For Rx glasses, we are completely dependent on donations. A lensmeter is used to determine the prescription of each pair. All the glasses are washed, bagged, and labeled, then sent to Honduras on our Spring container or carried on the plane with teams flying to Honduras.
The mission of the eye care program is, first of all, to share the love of Jesus Christ with our brothers and sisters in Honduras and, secondly, to provide them with the best eye care we can. Our immediate goal is to recruit a sufficient number of missioners so that all AHMEN medical brigades will be able to offer the services available. Our vision is to train Hondurans to be able to provide these services to their own people.