Preventing Blindness with Latter-day Saint Charities

30 October 2019

Millions of people around the world face avoidable blindness. Dr. Jesse Hunsaker has helped combat this issue. Dr. Hunsaker worked for 35 years as a general ophthalmologist, or eye doctor.

Millions of people around the world face avoidable blindness. Dr. Jesse Hunsaker has helped combat this issue. Dr. Hunsaker worked for 35 years as a general ophthalmologist, or eye doctor. For 11 of those years he also volunteered as a member of the Latter-day Saint Charities vision care committee. In this position, he worked in the field with Latter-day Saint Charities and its partners to treat various eye problems.

46 Projects, 9 Countries

From treating cataracts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) to infant retinopathy in Romania, Dr. Hunsaker and his wife completed 46 different vision projects with local partners. In addition to DR Congo and Romania, Dr. Hunsaker trained in Jamaica, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania. In these countries, he helped Latter-day Saint Charities deliver vision solutions to those in need.

Before planning a trip, Dr. Hunsaker and his wife researched local eye care and health care systems.

“We went to the countries looking for good partners,” Dr. Hunsaker said. “Partners who were looking for opportunities to improve the care for the underserved and the needy. We were always able to find in-country partners who shared that same goal.”

10,000 Cataract Surgeries

Cataract surgery is one of the most important ways to treat avoidable blindness. The actual surgery can be accomplished quickly and is followed by a short recovery time. But because people in many areas don’t have access to this surgery, their cataracts can lead to blindness.

Eye doctors in many areas often receive university training in eye care and surgery. However, they don’t always have the equipment they need to provide that care or surgery.

One of the Hunsakers’ best experiences was seeing the impact of their training in DR Congo. They had already made five trips to DR Congo to help supply local clinics with cataract surgery equipment and to train local eye doctors on using the equipment.

As Dr. Hunsaker reviewed eye care records on his fifth visit, he noted that the clinic had performed over 10,000 cataract surgeries since the equipment was first delivered. The equipment and training had made a significant difference in how this community treated cataract cases.

“If I’m a surgeon and I have skills but no tools, I can’t do anything,” Dr. Hunsaker said. “These places were going from doing no cataract surgeries to doing 5,000 to 6,000 surgeries a year.”

91.6 Percent

As part of his service to Latter-day Saint Charities, Dr. Hunsaker visited Romania four times. The vision needs in Romania were very different from those in central Africa. The Romanian eye care clinics had good equipment, and the local doctors were well trained in treating cataracts.

But as the Hunsakers visited Romanian eye clinics, they found one area of need—treating eye problems specific to premature infants. Many of these infants struggled with severe eye problems, and the local doctors didn’t know how to treat the problems.

Latter-day Saint Charities organized a specialized, in-country training so doctors could learn how to treat these issues. Of the 12 newborn intensive care units in the country, 11 sent representatives to the training. The specialized training reached 91.6 percent of the local clinics, and the doctors who attended received needed equipment.

As Dr. Hunsaker has volunteered with the Church’s humanitarian projects, he has learned the depth and breadth of how the Church learns about problems and finds solutions.

“I had no idea that the Church was doing this work,” Dr. Hunsaker said. “I came away extremely proud of my church and what they’re trying to do to minister to those who are in need regardless of their religion. It was always a joy to find people to serve and work with and find those who shared that same vision of helping those who are underserved and in need.”

Visit the vision care program page to learn more about how Latter-day Saint Charities works to prevent avoidable blindness.