Lions battle against preventable blindness

Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center handles 500,000 donations annually
BY JENNIFER KOHLHEPP Staff Writer
Individuals across the country annually drop about 6 million pairs of glasses into local Lions Clubs’ refurbished mailboxes, but not many donors know where those used spectacles go.

JENNIFER KOHLHEPP Allentown Lions Club President Robert Strovinsky sorts glasses with various prescriptions at the club’s eyeglass recycling center in West Trenton where they are readied for distribution to needy groups and individuals in other countries.
Lions Club International has nine approved eyeglass recycling centers operating in the Unites States. The New Jersey Lions Eyeglass Recycling Center at the Katzenbach School in West Trenton handles approximately 500,000 of those donations annually. The center cleans, neutralizes and determines the prescription of the used eyeglasses and then stores and packages them for distribution to needy groups and individuals in other countries.

Lions Club members from throughout New Jersey empty their yellow and blue mailboxes throughout the year and take the donated eyewear to the center. For example, the Allentown Lions Club has a collection box in front of the municipal building on Church Street that garners between 1,200 and 1,500 glasses each year, according to Secretary Dave Strovino.

Glasses collected by Lions Club members in refurbished mailboxes across the state wind up at the club’s eyeglass recycling center.
The Lions accept all types of used eyeglasses and sunglasses, prescription and nonprescription, for children and adults. Donations of reading glasses are particularly useful for workers who have to perform close-up tasks. Sunglasses are sought for people living near the equator, especially those with cataracts.

“People in Third World countries and impoverished

countries get the opportunity to have good vision,” Allentown Lions Club member Rich Holman said. “It’s a shame that we can’t use recycled eyeglasses in this country.”

Due to legal constraints against dispensing used prescriptive devices in the United States, most of the recycled glasses are distributed in developing countries where individuals and families are frequently pushed into deepening poverty because of their inabilities to see well and afford glasses. According to the Lions Club, at least 13 million children (ages 5-15) and 45 million working-age adults (ages 16-49) are affected with these inabilities globally.

Allentown Lions Club members use lensometers to determine the prescriptions of donated glasses.
“This is a great way to recycle and help people in need in other countries,” Allentown Lions Club member Tim Stolzenberger said.

Members of local chapters of Lions Clubs volunteer at the eyeglass recycling centers to minimize operating costs. The New Jersey center also reduces costs by giving residents at the Adult Diagnostic Treatment Center in Avenel and the Edna Mahon Correctional Facility in Clinton the opportunity to process donated glasses.

Most of the equipment and other goods used in the recycling process at the center, such as shipping boxes, are donations from Lions Clubs and area businesses, which also keeps costs down.

Biff Searing, the Allentown Lions Club member who chairs the recycled eyeglass project, said eyesight conservation is the Lions Club’s primary focus. He said theAllentown club has raised funds for and donated two lensometers to the center. These machines determine the prescription of the lenses.

Since eyesight comes first, the Lions process all types of eyewear, including those with 14-karat gold frames. However, if a pair of gold glasses is damaged and cannot be processed, the center sells the gold to further offset operating costs. The same goes for all recyclable materials, including damaged metal chains that the center cannot process.

Lions and other optical mission groups organize teams of eye care professionals and volunteers to travel to developing countries all over the world to conduct vision screenings and dispense the recycled glasses free of charge to children and adults with impaired vision.

In their battle against preventable blindness, New Jersey Lions also work with companies like Lenscrafters to get underprivileged children in local communities glasses at a fraction of the price they would regularly pay. New Jersey Lions also sponsor an eye-mobile that travels to various community events across the state providing free eye exams, including a screening for glaucoma.

Milestone Toward Ending River Blindness In The Western Hemisphere By 2012

ScienceDaily (Apr. 7, 2009) — An international team of researchers led by Rodrigo Gonzalez of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala reports that the transmission of onchocerciasis or river blindness has been broken in Escuintla, Guatemala, one of the largest endemic areas in the Western Hemisphere to date to stop the transmission of the parasitic disease.

The findings detail the lack of ocular lesions and the absence of infections in school children as well as in the black fly which spreads the disease. Escuintla is now the second of four Guatemalan areas to have stopped the transmission of river blindness.

“In a few short years—with continued hard work and increased political will—river blindness will never threaten the Americas again,” said co-author Frank Richards, MD, of the Carter Center’s River Blindness Program. “Ending transmission in Escuintla is an important victory in the campaign to eliminate this devastating disease.”

To date eight of 13 endemic study areas in Latin America have ended the transmission of the disease, largely through health education and semiannual mass distribution of ivermectin—also known as Mectizan® donated by Merck & Co., Inc.

Ivermectin had been given to 85 percent of the at-risk Escuintla population of 50,000 since 2001 by the Guatemala Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MPHSA). In 2007, the MPHSA, together with the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA), The Carter Center, the CDC and the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala launched an evaluation in Escuintla to determine whether transmission had been interrupted and if semiannual treatment could be suspended, following guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO). This evaluation led to the recommendation that treatment could be halted. Escuintla has now begun a three-year surveillance phase to ensure that infection does not reoccur in the absence of ivermectin distribution.

Onchocerciasis, caused by a filarial roundworm Onchocerca volvulus is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected black fly. The parasite causes eye damage that can lead to blindness and skin disease. Acting under a resolution by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the OEPA, seeks to stop transmission of O. volvulus throughout the endemic countries of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela by 2012. With one endemic focus, Colombia became the first country in the region to interrupt river blindness transmission in 2007. The Carter Center is the sponsoring agency for the Guatemala-based OEPA, whose partnership includes the six endemic countries, CDC, PAHO, Merck, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Lions Clubs Foundation International.

Retailer donated 30,000 pairs of sunglasses and reading glasses to charity New Eyes for the Needy

S-based travel retailer Hudson Group has donated the sunglasses and reading glasses inventory from its New York and New Jersey airport, bus and rail terminal stores to charitable organisation New Eyes for the Needy, which recycles glasses for distribution to poor people in developing nations.

The 30,000 pairs of glasses were worth over $1m in retail and will be handed to medical missions that work in partnership with New Eyes. The charity also works with larger organisations such as Feed the Children, Physicians for Peace and the Tree-Land Foundation to provide glasses for eye clinics in developing countries.

Hudson Group president and CEO Joseph DiDomizio said: “Hudson was delighted to be in a position to aid this outstanding organisation in the marvellous work they do around the world. We also provided glasses to local chapters of Lions Clubs International across the US, which conducts a similar mission to improve the vision of needy people in the US and abroad.”

New Eyes for the Needy executive director Susan Dyckman added: “This incredible donation from Hudson Group will help New Eyes to answer 100% of the requests for glasses we will receive from medical missions this year. We are very grateful to Hudson Group for this generous humanitarian gesture that will make a tremendous difference in the lives of thousands of poor people around the world by allowing them to see clearly so that they can work and attend school, as well as protect their eyes from the harsh sun.”

Lions Clubs see a need for local optical care

By Pamela Dickman Loveland Reporter-Herald

preschool eye screeningSteven Elwell was 76 when he had his first eye exam. “I’d never had my eyes checked by a doctor,” said the Loveland resident. “I’d always used reading glasses.” But when he noticed new problems, his daughter got him in touch with the Loveland Lions Club, which helps residents who can’t afford eye care.

“The Lions Club fixed it up so I would get an exam, and they gave me a pair of glasses.” That exam, Elwell said, uncovered a cataract, for which he is scheduling further eye care. Elwell is one of 179 Loveland residents the Lions Club helped with eye exams in 2008, a 31.6 percent increase over 2007.

The biggest increase in requests for help occurred in the last six months of the year — a trend Allan Leach expects to continue into this year. “Maybe layoffs from jobs and things is one reason,” said Leach, who coordinates the eye care programs for the Loveland Lions Club. “I also think we’re getting the word out.”

Like Lions Clubs across the country, the Loveland group focuses most of its philanthropy and the bulk of its budget, about $10,000 per year, on eye care programs. Lions Club members earn money in a variety of ways, but the biggest moneymaker is a small train that runs through North Lake Park every summer. Each year, the train tallies 22,000 to 24,000 rides. Of the 75-cent ticket, 50 cents goes directly to the Lions to help community members. The two biggest ways the Lions Club helps are by providing exams and eye glasses for residents in need and making sure preschool children receive eye screenings.

If certain eye issues are caught early, they can be treated before they become a bigger problem, said Leach. That is why Lions volunteers visit every preschool in Loveland every year and offer a free vision screening to 2- to 5-year-old children. “We feel very fortunate that they do this service,” said Vicky Vinton, director of the Kids Harbor Sunshine House. “It’s a great service for our families.”

With a hand-held machine, Lions Club volunteers take a reading that measures for muscular problems. A pediatric ophthalmologist at The Children’s Hospital reads the results then sends them to the parents. The screening is quick and simple but can prevent future complications by alerting parents to eye issues early on. About 90 percent of the children’s readings come back normal, but not all.
“We have even found a cataract in a small child,” said Leach. Another child, he said, needed corrective surgery but is now doing fine, he said.

If residents meet the financial need qualifications, the Lions Club will pay for an eye exam and glasses. Dr. Ken Vanamerongen, who belongs to the Lions Club, performs the exams and sells the glasses at a discounted rate. “We try to keep our costs as low as possible so we can do more,” said Leach. The Lions’ goal, according to Leach, is to ensure that people who need eye care receive it.
Floyd Gonzales Sr. and his son, Floyd Gonzales Jr., both received exams and new glasses through the Lions Club.

Gonzales connected with the Lions through the Loveland Disabled Resources Center. “My son’s glasses broke, and I couldn’t afford to get him new glasses,” said Gonzales Sr. “I’m on disability, and I’m the only one with an income.” Both father and son, he said, received much-needed new prescription lenses and frames. “With the old glasses, I was starting to see fuzzy,” said Gonzales. “With the new prescription, it’s back to like it was before. “I really appreciate the Lions Club.”

Stunning Success of Campaign Means Sight for Millions

By :Albert F. Brandel, President
The International Association of Lions Clubs

Albert F. Brandel, President The International Association of Lions ClubsThe Navajo Reservation in Arizona is beautiful, rugged country. The landscape matches the people. Many Navajo survive with little income yet they maintain a strong sense of community. Sadly, one thing their community often has lacked is vision care. Maureen and I were privileged to participate in eye screenings in October on the Navajo Reservation in Window Rock as part of World Sight Day. We were part of a very worthwhile effort that uncovered vision problems and distributed eyeglasses to those in need. (Lions also did diabetes screenings for Native Americans, Hispanics and senior citizens in Phoenix.) If you’ve ever been on a screening or mission, you know what it’s like to directly help those in great need. It’s just a wonderful feeling.

Maureen and I also recently were in Africa to observe Lions in action. We met with a grateful 26-year-old mother whose corneal transplant enabled her to see her two kids for the first time. Some people think I’m an unemotional police detective. But meeting that mother and realizing what the Lions did for her brought tears to my eyes.

Thanks to Lions, the world is full of stories such as the mother in Africa. We’ve also helped community after community meet its vision needs. Our main weapon in the fight for sight is SighFirst, of course, and the incredible success of Campaign SightFirst II will enable Lions to protect or restore the sight of millions. The $200 million we raised will bring sight–and the ability to live independently, to attend school, to work and to reach one’s full potential–to people in developed nations such as those in North America and in developing nations in Africa and Asia.

I want to thank all Lions who supported the campaign. Your generosity was outstanding. As always, Lions came through. It’s not easy to maintain your regular club projects and also support a larger cause. But club after club, Lion after Lion, put in the extra time and effort to ensure the campaign met its goal.

Now comes the part that makes the effort worthwhile–performing the operations and screenings, building eye clinics and hospitals, distributing medication and training eye care professionals, bringing the gift of sight to children and senior citizens and everyone in between. The campagin was a great success. But a year from now, two years from now and for many years to come, Lions will use these funds efficiently and effectively to restore sight and prevent vision loss for multitudes.

“Vision for All” Achieved Success of Sight Campaign Means 74 Million to be Saved from Vision Loss

For three years Lions clubs worldwide set aside portions of the proceeds from pancake breakfasts and festival food booths, held golf tourneys, raffles and walks, and even staged comedy shows to benefit Campaign SightFirst II (CSF II). The hard work of the 15,000 participating clubs has paid off. Lions now have raised $200 million to save sight and restore vision.

The successful campaign will allow Lions to take their sight-saving service to new levels.

· More than $100 million will be used to support programs that control and eliminate the major causes of blindness, such as cataract, trachoma and river blindness.
· An additional $50 million will fund projects that combat emerging threats to sight, such as low vision, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
· The remaining $50 million will be used to provide “Vision for All” by supporting research, enhancing outreach programs for vulnerable populations in developed countries and rehabilitation efforts.

Lions at the 2008 International Convention in Bangkok in June learned of the amount raised by CSF II. As the figure was disclosed on a 70-foot wide screen, thousands of Lions in the arena-sized convention center stood up to cheer, whistle and wildly applaud. But a few individuals were missing. To be more accurate, many millions of people were missing from this celebration.

These individuals are the 74 million people who will keep or have their vision restored thanks to Lions’ SightFirst program and CSF II. They live in 91 countries in cities and villages around the world where SightFirst services are delivered at hundreds of SightFirst hospitals, clinics and eye camps. Together, they make up those who would have been victims of blindness had it not been for Lions taking action.

Far from the stage and pageantry, patients have reason to rejoice and thank Lions for restoring their precious eyesight. Dukarui Otunno of Kenya received a SightFirst trachoma surgery that returned his sight. “Seeing again is like being reborn,” he says.

In India, Adabala Lakshmi Narasamha’s vision grew foggy and blurred by cataract, but most distressing, she could no longer see the smiling face of her grandchild. Through SightFirst, she received cataract surgery. “I’m very happy to get back my eyesight, I can see clearly, just like my early days. God bless the Lions for the noble work they are doing.”

Confronting Blindness
The world’s blind population did not always have a Lions’ program to answer the call for help. SightFirst was launched by Lions in 1989. At that time, Lions leaders saw an enormous opportunity to mobilize the association’s 1.3 million members and raise more than $140 million to fight the growing global problem of preventable blindness.

Lions’ SightFirst program worked in partnership with Lions clubs and organizations around the world to improve eye care and make the dream of a life free of blindness come true for millions of people. SightFirst was directly responsible for saving and restoring sight to more than 27 million people through cataract surgeries, vision screenings, a worldwide childhood blindness initiative, trachoma control and river blindness prevention programs and much more. In addition, hundreds of millions of individuals received improved vision care.

On average, Lions could restore vision or save a person from blindness for only $6 through SightFirst. Lions had established themselves as world-renowned leaders in blindness prevention. But despite these successes, more work remained.

According to the World Health Organization, since the 1990s, data based on the 2002 global population showed a reduction in the number of people who are blind or visually impaired and those who are blind from the effects of infectious diseases. Despite these advances, reports showed an increase in the number of people who are blind from conditions related to longer life spans. Experts predicted if SightFirst efforts came to a halt, the world’s blind population would double from 37 million to 74 million by 2020.

A Victory for Sight
CSFII sought to continue and expand SightFirst and address the changing patterns of blindness by raising a minimum of $150 million. Lions also set an additional $50 million challenge goal to help establish “Vision for All” through research, aid to vulnerable populations, and funding rehabilitation efforts and education for those already blind.

CSFII was launched at the 2005 International Convention in Hong Kong. Lions’ CSFII fundraising epitomized Lions’ dedication to the SightFirst program. More than 40,000 Lions clubs raised funds and made pledges. In addition, more than 3,400 clubs became CSFII Model Clubs by committing to the highest possible fundraising goals.

What Lions accomplished through CSFII was an answer to a plea voiced long ago by Helen Keller: “I appeal to you Lions, you who have your sight, your hearing, you who are strong and brave and kind. Will you not constitute yourselves Knights of the Blind in this crusade against darkness?” CSFII is an extension of efforts Lions began more than two decades ago. Combined with the first fund-raising campaign that launched the SightFirst program in the early 1990s, Lions have now raised more than $343 million for sustainable sight programs.

“SightFirst has changed the world, and changed the way that the world sees Lions,” said former U.S. President and Nobel Laureate Jimmy Carter. “Today, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and associations such as LCI play a critical role by taking on projects that governments and corporations cannot. Around the world, national and local governments turn to Lions as partners in safeguarding the sight of their citizens.”

LCIF Funded Eye Clinic First to Aid Underserved Populations Since Hurricane Katrina

Today the Lions Clubs International – LSU Eye Clinic was inaugurated. University staff, local Lions and Lions Clubs International Past President Jimmy Ross attended the launch event.

Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) has awarded a grant of $500,000 to the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center’s Department of Ophthalmology to establish the Lions Clubs International – LSU Eye Clinic. This clinic, part of the LSU Interim Hospital system, provides vision care for the medically indigent and for patients sponsored by the Lions Clubs of Louisiana. The clinic is directed by Bruce A. Barron, M.D., Clinical Professor of the Department of Ophthalmology. Funding for the clinic was made possible by the Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief Program at LCIF, which provides support for vital public facilities and programs helping damaged regions recover and resume functioning.

“For the first time since Hurricane Katrina, there is a facility devoted specifically to the provision of eye care for people in the greater New Orleans area who do not have health insurance, thanks to this generous gift from LCIF. This facility has state-of-the-art equipment that allows diagnosis and treatment of devastating eye conditions. The patients whom I have seen at the Lions Clubs International – LSU Eye Clinic have all expressed an enormous amount of gratitude that such a clinic is now available to them. Most of them have been through a lot of stress since the hurricane, and this clinic has relieved their anxiety about eye care,” said Barron.

“It is a privilege for the members of this committee, on behalf of Lions Clubs members from all over the world, who have given so generously of their time and money to provide through Lions Clubs International Foundation, the resources to help establish this clinic. This clinic will be an important resource in this underserved area,” said Loweill Bonds, LCIF Hurricane Katrina Committee Chairperson and past international director.