By Dawn Smith
Originally Published: Feb 27, 2012 in Rocky View Weekly
Dr. Michelle Anholt recently shared some of her experiences volunteering for a study on the amount of avoidable blindness in Madagascar at the Madden Community Hall during the Lions Club's community appreciation night.
Madden-area resident and veterinarian Dr. Michelle Anholt, 50, recently had an experience many can only dream of. Anholt travelled to Madagascar to work with a team of local ophthalmologists with the goal of estimating the magnitude of avoidable blindness in the island country. The six-week trip, made possible by Seva Canada, was fascinating for the doctoral student who is nearing completion of her PhD in epidemiology, which she started in 2008 after 25 years as a small animal vet.
“(The trip) was really rewarding,” said Anholt. “It was somewhat overwhelming... their needs are so great.” Faced with very real poverty, Anholt found herself wondering if she was making a difference. Her ability to focus on each separate task in the small remote villages of Madagascar enabled her to continue. Anholt said although the country has many resources, it has very poor infrastructure. There are highly-trained doctors in the nation, but the country has very few medical supplies, she added. The country also has a high prevalence of blindness, a lot of which is preventable through education and health care, added Anholt.
The World Health Organization states there are 285 million visually impaired people in the world, 90 per cent of whom live in low-income countries. Many of those cases are preventable or treatable, but health care isn’t readily available, according to Anholt. “Certainly of all the health issues in the world, (fighting) blindness is something that can be sustainable even in the poorest countries,” said Anholt. “They can set up programs, charge a fair amount for services, and they can make it sustainable.”
Anholt said Seva Canada, a Vancouver-based charity with a mission to restore sight and prevent blindness in the developing world, is an ideal organization to make a change because it helps communities develop their own affordable eye care services. The organization can do so without long-term commitment from Canada, she added. “They use local people, they use local supplies, they make the lenses themselves, so they become self-sustaining,” said Anholt. Anholt, who recently spoke at the Madden Lions Club’s community appreciation night at the Madden Hall, said the experience has motivated her to do more volunteer work. Bill Rendall, Lions Club secretary, said Anholt’s talk was of special interest as Lions Clubs worldwide have a commitment to preventing diseases causing blindness through several means, including its SightFirst program in Madagascar.
Rendall, who has lived in the Madden area and been involved in the Lions organization for about 12 years, said the group donated more than $19,000 to local, national and international causes last year. Those causes include STARS, the Lions Eye Bank, the Lions Youth Camp, the Alberta Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Wish Foundation. “From my perspective, I feel that if you live in a community, you owe something to that community,” said Rendall. “The community is not just local… it is much larger than that.”
For more information about Lions Club sight programs, visit www.lionsclubs.org