Lions Restore Sight in Sri Lanka Cataract is the leading cause of blindness in Sri Lanka. Piyadasa Hewavithana, 63, is one of 16,500 Sri Lankans who have the Lions to thank for regained sight through cataract surgery. Once nearly blind, he now enjoys reading the newspaper and is able to work again. “My sincere thanks to the doctor and staff of the Lions Hospital at Panadura for providing free vision for poor people who would otherwise go blind,” he says. “I have got a new life. I pray that Lions will help many more poor people to get their sight back.” About 18 million people worldwide are blind from cataract, representing 48 percent of all cases of blindness. In developing countries surgical services are often inadequate or inaccessible. Or there are long waiting periods for operations, shortages of supplies and transportation problems that impede access to the underserved. Sri Lanka emerged from a 26- year-long civil war in 2009. Resources that would have otherwise been available for health care had been diverted to military spending. However, even during wartime, SightFirst prevented vision loss. Between 1993 and 2008, SightFirst provided nearly $1.8 million. In addition to surgeries, eye care wings were constructed at three government hospitals, four government eye wings were upgraded and three Lions eye hospitals were supported through infrastructure development, human resource training and cataract subsidies. Dr. S. Chandrashekar Shetty, SightFirst technical advisor for Sri Lanka, says, “Lions of Sri Lanka have joined hands with national and provincial governments of Sri Lanka, other national and international NGOs, voluntary organizations and civil society in providing need-based, comprehensive, quality eye care services in the underserved population of Sri Lanka in the last two decades.” As cataract remains the leading cause of blindness in Sri Lanka and many other developing nations, Lions continue to focus on cataract surgeries. One of the indicators used to determine the degree to which the cataract issue is being addressed is the cataract surgical rate, or the number of cataract surgeries being carried out by all eye care providers, per million population. The Sri Lankan average is 3,804, but this number fluctuates wildly among the 25 districts of Sri Lanka, with figures ranging from 571 to 8,889. These new figures will help guide Lions eye hospitals to reach the underserved. Specifically, the Lions seek to expand their outreach beyond the greater Colombo area in Sri Lanka and have started working with the ministry of health and VISION 2020, a global initiative to eliminate blindness, to play a proactive role in building the eye care systems in other parts of the country. They have explored partnering with government hospitals in Jaffna, Trincomalee and Batticaloa for upgrades to help address the areas’ cataract surgical backlogs. A new Lions eye hospital in Ratnapura, financed through a Sight- First grant and a generous donation by the Lions of Finland and their government, will address eye care needs in another underserved part of the country. Through these efforts, the Lions can answer Hewavithana’s prayer to “help many more poor people to get their sight back.”
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