our humble beginning
In 1979, a volunteer ophthalmologist from Negros Occidental, in the person of Dr. Fortunato Eusebio, went to Gujarat, India with Rotary International (RI) to work in surgical eye camps. He was so inspired that he shared the idea with his friends in the Rotary Club of Bacolod North (RCBN), RI District 3850 of doing volume cataract surgery not eye camp style but in a hospital. He convinced them to start a project called “Sight Savers” with the aim of doing 50-60 cataract surgeries in one year. Each year the club raised funds specifically for this project. The patients were accommodated in school classrooms, which were converted to dormitories during the vacations and ferried to the hospital for surgery. This involved the services of many club members, volunteers, and wives of the Rotarians, to see that the meals and transportation of the patients and their ‘watchers’ were well served and well-coordinated. There was great camaraderie and celebration but it was not cost-effective and the project was only reaching out to a maximum of 60 patients per year because of fund constraints of the Rotary Club.
It was in this annual sight-saving activity of the RCBN where Eusebio ‘Jack’ Po volunteered. Inspired by this activity, he joined RCBN in 1980-81. He kept this activity going for almost 15 years until he became restless.
Then something great happened. “Old men dream dreams and young men see visions”. In 1992, Dr. Fortunato Eusebio and Eusebio ‘Jack’ Po, with the same mission and vision to reach out to many more cataract patients got together a group of like-minded individuals and formed the Cataract Foundation Philippines, Inc. (CFPI). Jack Po at that time was anxious to expand the prevention of blindness program to reach out to more than just 50 beneficiaries but the club did not have the appropriate level of resources to respond. He became the president up to the present.
Negotiations were made with Dr. Pablo O. Torre Sr. Memorial Hospital, the best private hospital in Negros, whereby indigent patients could have their cataract surgeries at an affordable cost. The surgical supplies and hospital bills were funded by the Foundation.
The number of referrals and surgeries increased dramatically that in the first two years almost a thousand cataract surgeries for poor patients were done per year. Health professionals, community workers of NGOs and village health workers were trained to identify cataract and motivate patients to submit for surgery. Initially, the lone surgeon was Dr. Fortunato Eusebio (at this time 2 of his children, Eusebio Jose ‘Jay’ and Cristina are in the team). It was most rewarding to see vision being restored to so many poor people. By working together, ordinary people (like non-medical staff, field workers and patients who had successful surgery and their families) were responsible for the high referrals. So it was decided to share our mission of “Restoring Sight, Transforming Lives” by “Training hundreds to Cure Thousands”. Ophthalmologists from other provinces came to Bacolod and were trained to do volume surgery in a cost effective way and to replicate the Bacolod Model in their respective provinces.
Miracles do happen when the Board of CFPI met with Mr. Bill Brohier, the then regional representative of CBMI-SEAPRO, (Christoffel Blindenmission, South East Asia Pacific Regional Office) with their project proposal, which was to make Negros Island a Cataract Free Zone.
In 1995, the Regional Director of Christoffel Blindenmission (CBM) saw the potential of Cataract Foundation becoming a model project and recommended partnership. CBM recognized the excellent efforts and surgical skills of Dr. Eusebio and a very committed Board and decided to make CFPI a center for learning, teaching, inspiring and motivating other young ophthalmologists and other non-government organizations. Bill Brohier played a vital role in establishing the partnership and so CFPI became a CBM partner. CBM-SEAPRO commissioned CFPI to take on the role of managing the funds, equipment, medicines and surgical supplies and coordinating the eye work of all CBM partners nationwide.
In earlier years, several expatriate ophthalmologists were seconded by CBM to Cataract Foundation to further develop Prevention of Blindness activities. These were Dr. Ulli Best, Dr. Jan Tynovski and Dr. Van Lansingh.
Behind the glamour and excitement of the responsible and expanded role of CFPI nationally, ably fulfilling its international role in the development of eye care services, and also dealing with the needs of today and ever mindful of the individual’s plight, for Dr. Eusebio, what the Foundation is doing is but a dent in the huge cataract backlog.
CFPI has been centrally involved in the development of Vision 2020 (a worldwide campaign which aims to combat the major causes of blindness including cataract and give everyone in our world, particularly the millions of poor people the Right to Sight by the year 2020) strategies. The tasks of CFPI include mobilizing the community and creating awareness about cataract, training of health workers, rural health physicians, and community-based field staff of non-government agencies in identification and referral methods.
Since CFPI started in 1992 the focus has been to address the cataract backlog - the main cause of blindness in the country as indicated by the first (1987), second (1995), and third (2002) population-based surveys on blindness conducted by the Department of Health (DoH) and the Institute of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of the Philippines.
But Vision 2020 identified the three (3) eye diseases that are significant in the Philippines as preventable and curable: cataract, errors of refraction, and childhood blindness. Cataract remains the main thrust of the program but we are also conscious of the growing need to address childhood blindness and errors of refraction. We are working closely with pediatric ophthalmologists or pediatric-inclined ophthalmologists to create awareness among family physicians, pediatricians and to improve the early identification and referral of children with eye problems. We have mobilized the society of optometrists in some provinces to help with the screening of students 12-18 years old (basically High School students in government schools).
Dr. Eusebio, past retiring age now is still actively operating. He seems not to get tired at all and forever willing to make a big difference not only in the statistics but more so to the lives of those whom he helped regain their sight.
Presently, Dr. Eusebio with all his humility has these achievements to be proud of:
- He has been involved in training ophthalmologists locally and abroad
- He has been to Myanmar and the Pacific Islands to train their local ophthalmologists in cost effective surgical techniques
- Medical adviser for CBM, Southeast Asia & Pacific Region (SEAPRO)
- Foreign ophthalmologists hired by CBM are assigned for a short term of training with him before they are posted to other countries
- He has trained hundreds of health workers in Negros Island on Primary Eye Care and detection of cataract.
- Trained residents of PGH and hospitals in Manila on Small Incision Cataract Surgeries (SICS), a cost effective alternative to the high tech very expensive laser assisted cataract surgery using the expensive phaco machine.
- Provided on-site training to government ophthalmologists in Mindanao and Eastern Visayas trained through the Modified Residency Training Program (MRTP) at the Institute of Ophthalmology, Philippines. This MRTP Program in ophthalmology trains doctors in the provinces with no eye doctor to become accredited ophthalmologists and is funded by CBM.
Apart from Dr. Eusebios notable achievements, CFPI initiated a noble idea called Munting Doktor or Little Eye Doctor project wherein Grades 5 and 6 pupils (11 and 12 year olds) were trained in a simple way to check the eyes of their grandparents and elderly neighbors. When identified, the children would either refer their ‘patients’ to a health center or a community eye worker will go to the school to do a final screening and refer the patients for surgery but this project ended sometime in 2008.
CFPI works in a cost effective manner, enabling it to provide services to a large number of beneficiaries in a country where a large and increasing proportion of the population live in poverty, and where access to medical eye services is limited to those who can afford to pay or are covered by medical insurance.
CFPI is headed by an experienced trio – the President, Mr. Eusebio Po, a medical adviser, Dr. Fortunato Eusebio, and the program manager, Ms. Mavis Campos.
CFPI is in partnership with CBM since 1992.
CFPI received a five year (1999-2003) grant supported by AusAID and funded via CBMI Australia. With remaining money from this grant, we established the Visayas Hearing Centre (VHC) in 2002. It addresses the need for Ear and Hearing Care (EHC). The centre offers a state-of-the-art facility for diagnostic evaluation at affordable cost which also serves as a cost recovery strategy of CFPI. With VHC, the project aims at decreasing the prevalence of hearing impairment in Visayas region. Synergies are being sought between ear and eye work in the communities and numbers of community workers are trained in ear and hearing care in the central Philippines. This aspect of the programme is now part of a 4 partner EHC programme which aims at creating even more momentum for Ear and Hearing Care in the Philippines, following the advice of CBM’s Senior Advisor for Ear and Hearing Care who commented EHC work in the Philippines.
CFPI was also chosen as beneficiary of Seeing is Believing in 2013-2016.
CFPI has been a flagship program for prevention of blindness – mostly cataract surgeries – among the poorest sectors of the community, whose poverty would otherwise have fated them to remain blind.
Today, CFPI works with 11 other non-government organizations, 22 ophthalmologists, with 5 eye care coordinators, 7 health facilities, 9 optometrists, and 8 CBM partners covering all the 82 provinces. Our partners are mobilized especially in the underserved provinces doing outreach missions and in house missions for adults with cataracts. We started addressing Childhood Blindness in 2005 and helped cases of squints, congenital cataracts, ROP, and other sight restoration surgeries and treatments. Errors of Refraction are being addressed by doing community and school screening and building alliances with willing and committed optometrists. We are also involved in advocacy and trainings among the groups of Community Health Workers (CHWs) and Maternal and Child Health (MCH) workers in detecting eye problems in community based prevention of blindness and referring them for intervention. For irreversible conditions, we refer them to partners for education and rehabilitation like Resources for the Blind.
Overall, CFPI has achieved the following:
Ø cataract surgeries – 542,451
Ø glaucoma surgeries – 8,323
Ø major eye surgeries – 87,454
Ø minor eye surgeries – 28,924
Ø dispensed spectacles to children – 196,848
Ø dispensed spectacles to adults – 144,664
Ø MCH trained in Primary Eye Care (started only in 2009) – 3,264
Ø CHW trained in Primary Eye Care (started only in 2009) – 3,569
Ø Total school children screened (started only in 2007) – 164,911
Ø Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) screened (started only in 2007) – 1,334
Ø ROP treatments (started only in 2006) - 306
Confucius once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Cataract Foundation took that first step 24 years ago. With dedication of purpose and commitment to serve, we have been able to make a paradigm shift in the minds and hearts of many young ophthalmologists to journey with us in Restoring Sight, Transforming Lives to thousands of Filipinos.
Current programs and activities:
1. Cataract and other eye surgeries for both children and adult
2. Community & School Screening
3. Provision of spectacles for school children
4. Primary Eye Care Training
5. Alliance Building
Ø Mobilizing pediatric ophthalmologists and pedia inclined ophthalmologists
Ø Mobilizing optometrists to help with screening of high school students to identify uncorrected refractive errors
Ø Getting Local Government Units and line agencies to help with dissemination of information, identification of patients, transport of patients to eye centers for diagnosis and surgery
Ø Networking with service organizations (Rotary, Soroptomists) and other NGOs
Ø Referral of irreversible conditions for education and rehabilitation to other NGOs
6. Advocacy and Campaign AwarenessWorking with local government units to provide inclusive eye health and strengthening the eye health systems