Guatemala is one of the poorest nations in Latin America. Nearly 37% of the population lives on less than $2 a day and roughly 15% of people lack access to health care. An estimated 72,000 Guatemalans are blind from cataracts and thousands more children, women and men go blind every year or are functionally blind due to lack of access to glasses.
Seva began working with Visualiza Eye Care System, our Guatemalan partner, in 2007.
Inspired by Aravind Eye Care System, Seva’s partner in India, and supported by multiple international agencies, Visualiza became the first organization in Latin America to develop a social enterprise model dedicated to providing high-quality affordable eye care services to the entire population. Financed by service fees paid by wealthier patients, Visualiza implements outreach programs to locate poor, isolated people and transport them to hospital for care. Through this model, Visualiza has become financially self-sustaining and has seen phenomenal growth. Currently, Visualiza provides approximately 30% of the cataract surgeries in the country with only 2% of the nation’s ophthalmologists.
Visualiza is the only eye care organization working in the Petén region in northwest Guatemala and in San Marcos in the west, two remote, undeveloped and impoverished regions. Together, Petén and San Marcos cover nearly half of the landmass of Guatemala.
Seva provides direct support to Visualiza’s clinical services, program capacity building, outreach to new areas, and childhood blindness programs including surgeries and school screenings. The organization also supports Visualiza’s growing role as a training institute for mid-level ophthalmic staff and a mentor to other eye care programs in Central and South America that are interested in increasing their capacity and efficiency. The growing impact of Visualiza in Latin America will ensure thousands more people will receive sight-restoring treatments and services.
“Poor people in Guatemala don’t retire; they work until they die. To have a blind person in the family is a burden to the family and the entire community. Blind adults cannot stay alone at home, so the kids can no longer go to school… By restoring the sight of a person, that person can become productive again, the kids can go to school and the economy of the whole community improves.”
Dr. Mariano Yee, Visualiza Eye Care System