SightFirst Has New Focus in China Ge Sang sobbed when her eye bandages were removed. “Thanks for curing my eyes,” she said. The 77-year-old Chinese woman became blind from cataract five years ago, and an eight-year- old relative was forced to look after her. Sang now is one of the millions of people who have had their vision restored through SightFirst China Action (SFCA). Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) is a world leader in preventing avoidable blindness and restoring sight. The need for sight programs in China is particularly urgent. It’s believed that more than 20 percent of people blind from cataract live in China, and every year 400,000 more people become blind there. The lack of eye care infrastructure, adequately trained personnel and proper equipment are at the root of the crisis. Launched in 1999, SFCA is a partnership between LCIF and the People’s Republic of China to address the blindness prevention needs of mainland China. It has become one of LCIF’s largest and most successful programs. The first two phases of SFCA exceeded expectations. Since 1997, bolstered by $200 million in matching funds from the Chinese government, the Foundation has provided more than $30.8 million to make possible 5.4 million cataract surgeries, the training of more than 50,000 eye care personnel and the strengthening of more than 300 eye care institutions. Lions are now helping even more people. Launched during the 2011 World Sight Day in Shenzhen, China, SFCA III is focusing on the elimination of blinding trachoma, strengthening eye care linkages and improving low vision services. Two SightFirst grants totaling $3.35 million will help the Chinese government eliminate blinding trachoma. Trachoma is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness. In China, millions are at risk of contracting trachoma or are already suffering from it. With the help of SFCA III, the goal is to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem in China by 2016. SightFirst also awarded $1.38 million to the Chinese Ministry of Health to develop a model program in Liaoning Province that will link tertiary eye care centers to peripheral centers. This program will give patients greater opportunities for referrals across regions as well as the best delivery of services available. This project should demonstrate that linking eye care facilities can result in high quality eye care for rural areas and not only urban areas. Finally, two model low vision clinics in Liaoning and Guangdong Provinces are being developed through a $250,000 SightFirst grant. Low vision, which by definition cannot be completely corrected with glasses or surgery, is caused by age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma or even diabetic retinopathy. About 40 million Chinese suffer from low vision, according to the World Health Organization. SightFirst will staff the two model low vision clinics and provide a variety of vision equipment. “We are excited to continue and expand our vision and humanitarian services throughout China,” says LCIF Chairperson Sid L. Scruggs III. “Lions in China have a great record of reducing blindness, and we are now looking to reach even more people in need through several new initiatives.” These projects are possible through funds raised from Campaign SightFirst II. Lions continue to target the leading causes of the blindness but are also beginning innovative projects that address new and emerging threats to sight.
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