The University of Chile has long been actively involved in humanitarian eye services for needy patients in Santiago, Chile. However, the university was not always equipped to provide low-vision services, which include diagnosis of the cause of visual disability, evaluation for low-vision aids, and occupational therapy in coping with visual disabilities. LDS Charities provided training and materials so that the university could establish a low-vision center.
In the project, facilitated by Dr. Donald C. Fletcher and his wife, Terri Fletcher, LDS Charities partnered with the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Chile. Many patients in the area suffer from visual disabilities or blindness due to some untreatable diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa, and some common treatable diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. Before this low-vision center was opened, many of these individuals had received all the treatment available to them but still suffered from visual disabilities because of limited resources. Low-vision services were available only through private providers, which many people in need cannot afford.
Dr. Fletcher explains that low-vision services can help individuals who have untreatable vision problems to maintain independence in their homes and, many times, in their workplaces. There are often very affordable and simple tools that can help individuals use the sight they do have.
The Fletchers provided four days of training to 15 medical doctors, medical technologists, and occupational therapists. The training included two days of lectures, a half day of hands-on demonstration of the new equipment, a half day of seeing low-vision patients, and a day of unpacking and labeling new low-vision equipment. The Fletchers also trained the staff on occupational therapy for low-vision rehabilitation. To make the training possible, the University of Chile generously provided a lecture theater, audiovisual equipment, and interpreters.
Dr. Fletcher commented that one reason the project was so successful was that all of the participants attended every day of the project, including heads of departments. Rather than just assigning others to attend in their place, the department heads fully participated in the entire program. This training has the potential for a long-term impact, as it will now become part of the standard training available at the university for all vision and occupational therapy students. Additionally, the local Rotary Club and the Chilean government have pledged their support to help sustain the clinic. The clinic is able to provide low-vision care to patients in Santiago, and the project will act as a model that can be repeated throughout the country.