Friday, October 27, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 66, Issue 49 

State charity campaign gets under way at UH

Ramos: Candidates ignore Hispanics

UH student wins essay competition

Cougar Comics Online

About the Cougar

UH's InFOCUS aims to help world's needy 

Group tries to prevent blindness by training workers to use new technology

Moses M. Raphael
News Reporter

Every five seconds one person in the world goes blind, and every five minutes a child meets the same fate according to the World Health Organization.

But one local group with UH roots wants to help stop the clock on world blindness, especially in developing countries.

InFOCUS -- Interprofessional Fostering of Ophthalmic Care for Underserved Sectors -- is part of an international coalition of health organizations called the Partnership Committee of Non-governmental Organizations Dedicated to the Prevention of Blindness.

The organization wants to end world blindness within the next 20 years with an initiative announced last week in Houston called "Vision 2020: The Right to Sight."

"We want to eradicate or wipe out avoidable blindness by the year 2020. Eighty percent of blindness in the developing world is needless," Barbara Kazdan, executive director of InFOCUS said.

The group started at the University after a breakthrough by two College of Optometry professors, Larry Spitzberg and Ian Berger, who developed the focometer, a simple portable device that measures visual problems and determines prescription for glasses.

"Until this instrument was available ... there were large populations that lacked access to means of finding out the prescription people needed," Kazdan said.

"People are almost blind sometimes simply because they have refractive errors that need correction," she said.

She said that in some countries there is one eye doctor for every one million people and some people must walk for days to receive eye care.

Following the successful testing of the focometer in 1995, InFOCUS became an autonomous nonprofit agency, although it still remained close to UH where its professors gave training workshops, she said.

"Unlike the University, that is interested in research and development, we are interested in actually delivering services and helping other organizations do the same," she said.

InFOCUS trains people how to use the focometer so they can deliver eye-care services in developing countries.

"Our mission is to help the world's neediest and most medically underserved communities gain access to basic vision care. We train people ... to be primary eye care providers," she said.

InFOCUS has programs in Texas and other states, but its first desire is to reach people in the developing world, Kazdan said.

Two of the most prevalent and avoidable eye diseases in the developing world are cataract and trachoma, according to the World Health Organization. Cataract disease clouds the lens of the eye and obstructs the passage of light, while trachoma is caused by a microorganism that spreads through contact with eye discharge.

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