Heinen: Helping people see clearly

300,000 people have had their sight restored
Heinen: Helping people see clearly
Photo courtesy of Combat Blindness International

It’s always been a bit of a mystery to me why an organization that has restored sight for hundreds of thousands of people around the world for roughly $25 per procedure would have such a low profile in its own hometown. Restore sight: think about that for a minute. Three hundred thousand men, women and children who could not see have had their sight restored and their lives transformed for 25 bucks. And yet Madison, for all of its estimable attributes, is not famously known as the home of Combat Blindness International.

I’ve always suspected part of the reason is because of the, shall we say, laid-back personality of CBI’s founder. Dr. Suresh Chandra is disarmingly humble, warm and kind. I remember a dear friend getting teary in her cancer-free eyes as she talked about Chandra’s care for not just her eyes but her spirit. But the miracle of CBI’s work is not about ocular cancer. It’s about cataracts, and a simple surgery with profound results. Since 1984, Chandra and his team of dedicated physicians, board members, volunteers and very small staff have worked to treat and prevent avoidable blindness and visual impairment.

Their research shows four out of five people who are blind don’t need to be. Eighty percent of all blindness is treatable or preventable. The overwhelming majority of visually impaired people live in low-income countries with scarce treatment options. In the United States, for example, there is one ophthalmologist per 12,345 people. In India that ratio is one per 111,111 people. In Africa in general, it is one in a million. CBI team members go to those places, in 15 countries on four continents and perform as many 20-minute cataract surgeries as available resources allow. Most of those resources come from people who care about and support the work and donate to the nonprofit. The more we donate, the more people have their sight restored.

CBI believes restoring sight is the most cost-effective medical intervention for reducing poverty. The organization’s statistics show that a person who has regained sight from a cataract surgery will generate 1,500 percent of the cost of the surgery in increased economic productivity in one year. Lives are changed: the person who can now see, their family and their community.

But more and more over the last several years, CBI has expanded its mission to include both treatment of childhood visual impairment and training eye care professionals, especially women. There’s a shortage of treatment providers to begin with. But two-thirds of the world’s blind population are women, in part the result of men not allowing their female family members to be screened by other men. And thus CBI’s mission now includes the work of global gender equality.

The mission also includes helping more than 30,000 children suffering from malnutrition and Vitamin A deficiency, providing vision screenings and eyeglass prescriptions and giving formerly blind children the chance at a full education. CBI also funds free community eye care clinics here in Madison. Additionally, the nonprofit creates infrastructure and capacity in some of the countries in which it is present by building, training and staffing eye care facilities.

So to recap, Combat Blindness International, headquartered in Madison, founded by Chandra, an ophthalmologist and former University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of ophthalmology, is restoring sight and productive lives to hundreds of thousands of people in some of the poorest places in the world; diagnosing and treating vision problems in kids, including free clinics here in Madison; building hospitals; and working for global gender equality.

Now do you want to help? This year’s CBI fundraiser in celebration of World Sight Day is from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 28, at the Madison Marriott West. It’s a blindfolded beer, tea, cheese and chocolate tasting. You can learn more at info@combatblindness.org. We’ll see you there.

More conscious capitalism

One of the components of conscious capitalism we explored in the January magazine is something called Certified B Corps., or B Corps. for short, a legal business certification that measures a company’s social and environmental impact along with other requirements of incorporation. It’s still a relatively new idea, but Abigail Barnes, co-founder and CEO of the Madison startup Allergy Amulet, has embraced the idea and is among the sponsors of an event called B the Change: Business as a Force for Good. It’s Thursday, Sept. 14 at Overture Center for the Arts. Information and tickets are available here.

Local group at the pinnacle

This one didn’t get as much attention as it deserved, but 100 Black Men of Madison recently received the highest honor bestowed by the national office of 100 Black Men of America–the Pinnacle Chapter of the
Year Award. Madison chapter president Floyd Rose and his distinguished group of fellow board directors and members were recognized for “achieving excellence in each of the 100’s four programmatic focus areas: mentoring, education, health and wellness, and economic empowerment.”

Neil Heinen is editorial director. Reach him at nheinen@madisonmagazine.com or on Twitter @neilheinen.