Lions Celebrate 20 Years of SightFirst in Madagascar

Cataracts are the number one cause of blindness. Moved to change the reality for those affected, more than 20 years ago, Lions in Madagascar started a SightFirst project to address the issue. Since then, the Lions have gone on to do so much more.

“When we see the smiles of the people we help, it goes straight to your heart. No riches in the world can buy the feeling of happiness that comes from helping others,” says Lion Anja Ramilison of Antananarivo Lions Club.

Lions SightFirst Madagascar (LSFM), a program supported by Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF), recently marked its 20th anniversary restoring sight and expanding comprehensive eye care services across Madagascar.

Approximately 1.3 billion people worldwide live with some form of vision impairment, according to the World Health Organization, be it a refractive error, cataracts, or another eye condition. However, close to 80 percent of all vision impairment is avoidable. Many times, a pair of glasses is all that one needs to see clearly. Despite this, millions are seeing their lives through blurry eyes.

In Madagascar, almost 80 percent of the population lives on less than US$1.90 per day and cannot afford an eye exam or glasses. So, in addition to a major cataract problem, Madagascar has many people living with uncorrected refractive errors. Many parents who lost their vision are no longer able to care for their family. They cannot work, so they cannot earn a living. In addition to a problematic economic situation, blindness and visual impairments lead to other health issues and a shortened life expectancy.

Recognizing an enormous problem, Lions of Madagascar opened the SightFirst Madagascar Eye Center, which is open every day of the week to provide eye care to those who need it. The eye center is committed to improving access to comprehensive eye care, including treatment of uncorrected refractive errors, and has affordable eyeglasses made onsite. In addition, the center trains physicians to perform screenings and cataract surgeries that restore vision to people who were once blind.

In LSFM’s 20-year history, the center has made great strides against visual impairment and blindness. It has:

• Performed 77,794 cataract surgeries

• Distributed 101,644 pairs of eyeglasses

• Diagnosed and treated 602 cases of diabetic retinopathy

• Trained 60+ physicians

These accomplishments would not have been possible without LCIF and the support of 53 Lion and Leo clubs. Overall, LCIF has awarded seven grants to LSFM, totaling US$4,144,623.

To celebrate their 20th anniversary, LSFM Lion and Leo Clubs organized a parade and held a massive ophthalmic screening. Later that day, LSFM employees received medals from the Malagasy Government for their outstanding contributions.