In the late 1990’s, IEF determined that eye hospitals in developing countries were still underperforming, and lacked management capacity and revenue sources. At the urging of David Green, MPH, the leading social entrepreneur in eye care, IEF established its SightReach® Management program reorienting its mission to sustainability programming for eye care institutions. This included developing a model utilized in India that can be adapted by eye units in other regions of the world. Focusing on reducing blindness from unoperated cataract which is responsible for half the world’s blindness and addressing uncorrected refractive error, IEF’s technical assistance and investments improve efficiency, productivity and revenue generating services. IEF is now a global leader in sustainability programming for eye care.
Recognizing the need for modern ophthalmic instruments, equipment and supplies in the developing world, traditionally a small market for manufacturers, IEF established the SightReach Surgical® (SRS) program in 1999, the first non-profit platform to address affordability and lack of access to new ophthalmic equipment, instruments, and supplies by eye care providers and NGOs in developing countries. SRS makes available a wide range of ophthalmic products from manufacturers worldwide to eye care providers and international INGOs reducing the cost of technology and providing valuable procurement and advisory services – www.sightreachsurgical.com
IEF pioneered community-based Mectizan® distribution to fight onchocerciasis (river blindness) in Nigeria in collaboration with Africare, and Guatemala in 1990; and in Cameroon and Malawi in 1992. IEF continues to support onchocerciasis control programs in Adamaoua and South Regions of Cameroon and by 2017, over one million people received their sight-saving dose of Mectizan bringing a cumulative total of over 10 million treatments over the past two decades. The program began small treating approximately 6,000 people in the early years. Villages were added each year until now, over one million people are treated annually. In 2014 with support from Helen Keller International, IEF distributes anti-parasitic medicines to combat other worm infections. Dedicated local staff coordinate these treatment campaigns, each year training thousands of Community Directed Distributors. Gratitude goes to Merck and Company for its donation of the drug Mectizan and the collaborative support from the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control through 2016, the Lions SightFirst Program, Helen Keller International, and the Cameroon National Onchocerciasis Control Programme.
In Guatemala, IEF’s onchocerciasis control program was established in Yepocapa near the Mexican border in 1990. After three years, it was subsumed into the larger Onchocerciasis Control Program for the Americas (OEPA). In 2016, Guatemala was declared the fourth country in the world to eliminate river blindness. IEF is proud to have been instrumental in the early effort to control and eliminate river blindness from onchocerciasis and proud to see the disease eliminated in Guatemala in our lifetime.
According to the World Health Organization, there are 1.26 million (2010 data, C. Gilbert) blind children in the world today. Of these, 75% live in developing countries. Another 19 million are severely visually impaired of which 12 million need eyeglasses. From 2013-2018, IEF is serving as the Technical Advisory Group to the USAID Child Blindness Program which has provided critical funding for child eye care programs around the world. Having pioneered the grants program from 1995-2000 (Seeing 2000) with a large grant from USAID, IEF is privileged to now influence the direction of this innovative program to bring eye care to vulnerable children in the developing world.