Bringing Healing and Hope to The World's Neglected Blind
The Global Problem of Blindness
Blindness is both a medical and a social problem; impacting the individual, the family and the community. Loss of vision leads to isolation and dependency, restored vision brings freedom and hope.
Worldwide, 45 million people suffer from blindness; another 657 million live with some form of visual impairment that could be improved with spectacles or low vision rehabilitation.
Blindness is both a cause and a result of poverty: 90% of blind persons live in developing countries. The annual global cost of blindness is estimated at US $42 billion.
In both Ghana and Honduras (home to Christian Eye Ministry partner clinics) eye care is largely institution-based and concentrated in and around urban areas making geographic access to eye care limited to about 60% of the population; there are many more who cannot afford care.
The lack of trained eye care professionals, working equipment, low-cost supplies, and program management capacity all contribute to the global burden of blindness—a burden that will continue to increase as populations grow and people live longer.
The good news is--a whopping 75% of blindness is avoidable or treatable. Sight restorations and blindness prevention are the most cost-effective health interventions today.
Christian Eye Ministry (CEM) was founded in 1982, with the goal “to eliminate unnecessary blindness by establishing and supporting low-cost, locally managed eye centers to offer the world’s poorest communities modern eye care as an expression of the Christian message”. CEM founder and medical missionary to Africa, Dr. Frank Winter and his wife Joy, an ophthalmic nurse, were convinced that no matter how many volunteers were mobilized to provide free eye care services, they could not possibly eradicate the growing backlog of unnecessary blindness in the world. They believed the way to make a long-term impact on eye care worldwide was:
To develop increasingly self-sustaining eye clinics
To build on the talents and resources of the local community
For Western volunteers to transfer skills to local eye care providers
To mentor indigenous providers in a way that brings about local solutions to local problems.
Dr. Winter was also passionate about using eye care as a platform for spreading the gospel and preferred to partner with local churches when establishing clinics – a partnership that enabled the local church to own the evangelism component, a role they are better equipped to do locally .
In 1987, the first permanent CEM clinic was established in Ghana at Cape Coast in partnership with the Anglican diocese. It was later turned over to a local Board of Directors as a locally owned and managed health facility. Since that time, CEM has been instrumental in the establishment of another four clinics: three more in Ghana and one in Honduras. Today, all five are still in operation. In 1994, Christian Eye Ministry became a program of International Aid, a faith based international development agency based in West Michigan. The clinics were established using IA’s capabilities in medical equipment and gift-in-kind support, transportation of large equipment internationally, and technical expertise in eye care program planning. The impact of these resources, combined with Christian Eye Ministry’s active pool of eye care professional volunteers, enabled the establishment of multiple clinics and operating room facilities. Core strategies include capacity building, using appropriate technology, collaborative networking, and resource mobilization for sustainability. The principal blindness prevention activities have been primary eye care, cataract surgeries, glaucoma surgery, prevention of childhood blindness and correction of refractive errors. Over the years, these efforts have had a significant impact on hundreds of thousands of people in Ghana and Honduras.
Since 1982, CEM and its partner clinics have:
Provided eye care services to more than 650,000 patients.
Performed more than 30,000 sight restoring and vision saving surgeries.
Exposed scores of local health personnel to modern techniques of eye care.
Provided hundreds of volunteer professionals exposure to the enormous health challenges of a developing country; the lives of many of them changed forever by the experience.
Channeled millions of dollars worth of supplies, equipment and specialist services to the poor who would have otherwise become blind or vision impaired.
Shared with thousands spiritual insights into the love of God as revealed through Jesus Christ.
The Program Today
As a result of the economic downturn in 2008, International Aid was forced to discontinue support to several of its programs including eye care in spring 2009. In the summer of 2009, committed longtime CEM volunteers worked to see that the Christian Eye Ministry program was established as an independent, non-profit organization with tax exempt status.
Today Christian Eye Ministry’s partner clinics include:
COVA (Centro Oftalmologico Vida Abundante) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras-2001
TCEC (Tema Christian Eye Centre) in Tema, Ghana-2004
BAMCEC (Bishop Ackon Memorial Christian Eye Centre) in Cape Coast, Ghana-1987
Building Local Capacity
After a trip to Ghana, volunteer nurse trainer, Julie Burlew wrote:
“As I shared with these dedicated servants, I had the opportunity to see their LIGHT in the darkness. These nurses work under very difficult circumstances on a daily basis, but their joy and dedication to putting their patients first was a true inspiration.”
An integral part of the CEM program involves partnering with short term volunteer ophthalmologists, optometrists, and eye care professionals from Western countries. These volunteers travel at their own expense to assist with the diagnosis and treatment of patients and also to provide mentoring, training and skills transfer. Improving the caliber and quantity of eye care professionals available in CEM project countries is the strategy that pays the highest dividends in the long term. Experience indicates that when training modules are accompanied by one-on-one mentoring and skills transfer in the clinic learning and application improve. It also provides opportunities for mutual sharing and to encourage brothers and sisters serving on the front line.
The local staff and CEM volunteers are grateful for the opportunity to use their skills and talents to provide healing and hope to the poor and blind in an environment where they can share the love of Jesus with their patients. Christian witness happens in various ways including morning devotions, prayer before surgery, provision of printed materials or one-on-one testimonies. Recently our partner clinic in Honduras adopted a new mission statement: “to be a river of blessing to everyone in need of eye care”.
Making a Difference
Once established, most CEM partner clinics could continue to operate without ongoing support. But it is unlikely they could afford to serve those unable to pay for care or be able to increase access to care through outreach services and they would not have the ongoing exposure to training and skills transfer. CEM head office responsibilities involve resource mobilization; including cash and gift-in-kind (medications, surgical supplies, equipment, training materials), technical assistance and ongoing monitoring and evaluation of projects. Another responsibility of the head office is to provide partner clinics with a rotation of expatriate eye care professionals.
Christian Eye Ministry is making every effort to identify and link resources to the many critical eye care programming needs at our partner clinics. We strive to be good stewards of resources; committed to keeping overhead costs as low as possible. By God’s grace, we want to do all we can to be a “river of blessing” to our partner clinics so they, in turn, can be a “river of blessing to all in need of eye care” in the communities they serve. To assist in this endeavor, Christian Eye Ministry requests your financial and volunteer support to help us expand and strengthen this vital ministry of hope to the world’s neglected blind. Please prayerfully consider this request.