IOM Launches Eye Care Programme in Earthquake Area


From next Monday, 6 March, IOM will begin
to provide medical eye care for earthquake survivors living in the
large tent camps around Muzaffarabad, the capital of
Pakistan-Administered Kashmir.

The Community Ophthalmology Initiative (COI)
will focus on providing free cataract surgery to the elderly and
will also provide people with free transportation back to their
villages. In addition, it will schedule eye examinations in schools
to assess children with poor eyesight and those suffering from the
visual affects of vitamin A deficiency.

The lack of proper eyewear is a major reason
why many children perform poorly in schools, eventually dropping
out, and is a cause of health problems such as chronic headaches.
IOM is developing an additional programme to provide free or
low-cost eyewear to people that is likely to begin at the end of

The first phase of the COI will run until the
end of April and IOM programme managers hope to expand the work in
more locations throughout the earthquake-affected region.

The difficult living conditions in mountain
villages after the earthquake means that many elderly people moved
into the tent villages to wait out the seasonal snowfall.
Organizers say that this is the perfect time to begin the

"People who need cataract surgery are usually
elderly and don't often leave their villages," says IOM's
Muzaffarabad Medical Coordinator, Dr. Ehtisham, who is running the
Community Ophthalmology Initiative. "While they are all grouped
together, near a hospital, we can treat many more people than

The COI was made possible by a generous offer
from Dr. Wasim Abasi, an ophthalmologist who specialized in
corrective eye surgery while studying in the UK and Ireland. A
native of Muzaffarabad, he approached IOM officers to offer his
services free of charge, and IOM responded by coordinating the
entire programme.

It didn't take long. The Abbas Institute of
Medical Sciences (AIMS) hospital in Muzaffarabad agreed to provide
a free, sterile operating room and beds for the elderly for their
48 hours of recuperation. The lone AIMS ophthalmologist will have a
chance to learn advanced surgical techniques while working
alongside Dr. Abasi. IOM will provide staff for eye assessments,
coordinate/advertise the schedule of Dr. Abasi's visits to camps
and schools and will pay the US$18 per cataract operation. Medical
supplies will be provided by local businesses.

Once people are assessed and found in need of
medical attention, they will be given an eye surgery coupon that
can be redeemed when the entire family is ready to leave the tent
camp. When the coupon is redeemed and the patient has recovered
from the surgery, IOM will provide free transportation and escort
to their original village.

"The programme will help create a
‘pull-factor' to entice people to leave the tent camps and
head back to their villages," says IOM's head of sub-office in
Muzaffarabad, Hugh Smith. "It's free, it's easy, and we'll greatly
improve the lives of many elderly people and children who can no
longer see clearly."

For further information, please contact:

Darren Boisvert

IOM Islamabad

Tel: + 92 300 856 0341

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