According to OneSight.org, 1 in 7 people worldwide lack access to vision care — and there are various reasons for this. For example, the nearest eye clinic may be too far away to visit; it could be too expensive; or there may be other barriers to care.
We know that uncorrected visual errors and eye disease not only lower quality of life, but also can impact a person’s ability to earn an income. Meanwhile, school-aged children may encounter difficulties in learning due to poor vision. Combined, this creates a continuous cycle of disability-induced poverty.
Thankfully, there is hope: OneSight is a non-profit organization that focuses its efforts to provide the solutions, people and resources to help resolve the vision crisis — permanently. To date, OneSight has brought eye exams, glasses and permanent vision centers to the most vulnerable places and populations. This includes 37 million people served in 53 countries thus far, thanks to support from donors, volunteers, partners and sponsors.
Volunteer Spotlight: Helping Others See
Florida-based optometrist Ray Whetstone O.D., has been volunteering with OneSight since 2012. With nearly a decade of service, he has traveled with OneSight throughout the United States, Central and South America and Asia to help patients in underserved regions.
“I did my first trip with them in 2012 to a Native American reservation in South Dakota,” shared Dr. Whetstone. “All in all, I have been on eight domestic trips and seven international trips, visiting countries including Mexico, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Peru and Thailand.”
Dr. Whetstone has a history of doing charitable work. Prior to volunteering with OneSight, he traveled to Honduras with a team of 70 medical professionals, which included medical doctors, optometrists, dentists, chiropractors, nurses and pharmacists.
“We took over a school and set up a clinic … and as you can imagine, we did the whole thing,” he said. “We had tons of medical supplies that were donated by large companies,” said Dr. Whetstone, adding that at that time, the eyeglasses they used were recycled.
It was a new experience for Dr. Whetstone in Honduras. There, he saw a pathology he had only read about in school, and experienced firsthand how a simple pair of spectacles could dramatically alter someone’s life.
“Of course, I had my own personal experience of getting glasses in third grade … I had no idea how nearsighted I was until I put on the glasses!” he said.
“Professionally, I love watching the transformation of people — especially teenagers — when you put them into contact lenses and their whole personality blossoms,” shared Dr. Whetstone, noting that although they weren’t prescribing contact lenses in Honduras, they were changing lives nonetheless.
Of Spectacles and Sunglasses
In addition to eye glasses to correct refractive errors, Dr. Whetstone said that sunglasses are greatly needed as well.
“If I could waive a magic wand, the ability to provide sunglasses to everyone we see would be ideal,” he shared. “Most of the places I’ve been, the sun damage to the eyes is mind boggling — there is scar tissue on the front of the eye, as well as ‘early’ cataracts.”
In addition to the disease itself, this can cause a host of other challenges: For example, it’s unlikely that patients in these communities can afford or access medical or surgical care — and thus, quality of life decreases further.
“The last [OneSight] trip was to the interior of Peru, deep in the jungle … and the incidence of cataracts in young people was very high,” he said. “I came home bent on finding a way to make surgery happen — but then COVID hit and things are at a standstill.”
Saving Sight Through Outreach
There are numerous outreach organizations within the optical industry, said Dr. Whetstone, whose office also supports local and U.S.-based organizations like St. Matt’s House, the Red Cross and the Women’s Shelter. “Anyone who is interested just needs to search and opportunities can be abundant,” he continued.
“What I liked about OneSight is that they saw the need to change the process,” continued Dr. Whetstone. For example, they began making spectacles in the clinics rather than using recycled pairs. This, of course, makes it much easier for optometrists to match the prescription to the patient’s needs.
In addition, he said that OneSight is also adept at partnering with the local health ministries in the countries where they operate. This ensures they have the resources they need to serve patients.
Around the world, OneSight holds charitable clinics, which are designed to meet urgent unmet needs, and creates sustainable clinics, which are a permanent solution. Charitable clinics last one week to serve those with acute needs; while sustainable clinics offer a long-term solution in the community. In addition to providing vital access to vision services, the permanent sustainable centers also create jobs.
The nonprofit plans to continue its commitment to serving all of the world’s 1.1 billion people who are in need of eye exams and spectacles.
In Asia, outreach includes 85 charitable clinics and 76 sustainable centers. These provide millions of people with eye care in countries including: Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and China.