Local eye care group teams with nonprofit to help African villagers

By Robert Trishman

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, May 2 2013 4:28 p.m. MDT

PROVO — A local eye care facility joined forces with a nonprofit to help people in Africa improve their vision.

The Utah Valley Eye Center teamed with the Ouelessebougou Alliance to help bring sight to villagers in Mali. A recent medical expedition from Utah spent one week in the Ouelessebougou area providing cataract surgeries and general eye exams, and dispensing hundreds of donated eyeglasses to rural village residents of all ages.

“There is a great need for eye care in the area,” said Jen Beckstead, Alliance executive director. “Most villagers cannot afford a visit to the eye doctor, so they live with poor eyesight, and many are blind. It’s especially sad to see young children struggling to see the board in school.”

The visiting health care providers partnered with the lone ophthalmologist in the Ouelessebougou region, using his clinic in the local hospital for surgeries.

“There are so many in the area dealing with glaucoma, blindness and cataracts,” Beckstead said. “Fortunately, our Mali staff and the local ophthalmologist were able to prescreen villagers so the medical team could go right to work on cataract cases.”

The expedition performed 37 cataract surgeries, including procedures for a 13-year-old girl with cataracts in both eyes who had traveled nearly 220 miles from a small, rural village to be able to see for the first time in her life.

The team also performed about 1,000 eye exams at a local hospital and in four outlying villages, providing 825 pairs of eyeglasses and dispensing eye drops and salves to address eye infections and irritation.

“Many of the villagers rely on handwork to earn a living, so it was really wonderful to help these people see more clearly and improve their chances for success,” said Mike Clayton from the Utah Valley Eye Center. “It was the most satisfying thing I’ve ever been a part of.”

The Ouelessebougou Alliance is holding its annual dinner auction Saturday at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City, where the expedition team will share their experiences. The event features native Mali art, entertainment and humanitarian project updates.

The public is invited to either walk in or reserve seats in advance by calling 801-983-6254. The silent auction opens at 5:30 p.m., with the program and live auction beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The Ouelessebougou Alliance was established in 1985 to provide sustainable health, education and economic development opportunities for the rural villages in the Ouelessebougou region, south of Bamako, Mali’s capital.

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. For 27 years, the Alliance has worked in partnership with villagers to provide sustainable projects, including vaccinations, mosquito nets, health and education plans, school construction, provision of school supplies, training for teachers, and small business loans and training.

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