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"Sight for the Poor: A Journey from India to Bacolod"

by Mike Sarabia

To be blind...and poor, is one of the most difficult situations a human being can be in. In countries like the Philippines where the poverty levels are very high, blindness due to neglected eye disease is a common fate. 1% or 1,000,000 filipinos are blind...but the shocking thing is that 90% of them are blind from only one disease: CATARACT.  What is cataract?  It is a disease which makes the lens of the eye deteriorate to the point that it blocks all vision from entering the eye.  More surprising is the fact that cataract can be remedied by a 15 minute surgical operation.  So, you may ask...why are so many Filipinos blind?  The answer is simple...cataract surgery in the Philippines is very expensive.  Just call up any "eye center" in Manila and you will get prices ranging from P40,000 to up to P 120,000 for just one eye operation.  So what are your alternatives if you are poor? One is to be operated in a free program of a teaching or training hospital.  The disadvantage of this is that you may not get a good result especially if the resident in training is still learning his craft...or...you wait until a "medical mission" comes to town.

Either choice is not very ideal.  So, what system can be better than this?

To answer that question...I went on a thousand mile journey, to INDIA.

Before I made the trip, I had already been in private practice for 10 years, practicing Ophthalmology with my father in Sarabia Eye Clinic in Bacolod City. We had a busy practice doing about 200 to 300 cataracts a year.  At this point in time, I was a volunteer eye surgeon for Lions International. As a reward for doing a lot of cataracts for Lions, I was given a fellowship training opportunity in India.  This turned out to be the turning point of my career as an eye
doctor.  I often heard that the doctors in India did things "differently"..I would soon realize how true this was.

The trip to India was quite a journey...there were ten of us...six were eye doctors, two were ophthalmic nurses of the DOH, and two were Lions members who were active in the Sight First blindness prevention program...we flew first to Kota Kinabalu...then Kuala Lumpur...onto Madras, India...

...to be continued...

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