Field Notes: Screening for Blindness in San Jose City

Article by Dianne Joy A. Castelo

More than 1.25 million Filipinos have some form of visual impairment.  Of those, 33 percent suffer from cataracts – a reversible condition that tends to appear with aging.  With cataracts, a cloudy film covers the lens of the eye making it difficult to see clearly, or at all.  With pterygium, a triangular patch of tissue grows over the inner side of the eye and obstructs vision.  Both conditions are able to be treated with surgery which is why Alay Foundation works with Kapampangan Development Foundation (KDF) to screen patients and to perform surgeries.

In early June we began preparing for our free eye screening to detect cataracts and pterygium co-hosted by KDF and Alay Foundation.  We started by distributing advertising signs throughout San Jose City and by promoting the screening in the barangays.  We successfully signed up 97 people in advance of the screening.  When July 11th arrived, we signed up another 116 people – it was a good thing we had anticipated a large crowd.

While Rizza registered patients at the entrance to Plaza Leonor, my responsibility was to assist the people throughout the screening process.  Cerone documented the event through photos and words and Aida worked with all of the patients seeking reading glasses.

Although over 200 people came for the screenings, only 50 of those diagnosed with cataracts or pterygium scheduled their surgeries.  Fear, by far, is the biggest factor holding people back from these life-changing surgeries.  And, even though we stress throughout all of our advertising and promotion that the screenings and surgeries are completely free of charge, there is a myth that persists in the city and barangays that patients will be charged as much as 12,000 pesos.  Unfortunately, other cataract programs in the Philippines have been caught in this kind of fraudulent and corrupt practice which is casting a shadow over programs like Kapampangan Development Foundation’s which never charges a patient for their surgery and Alay Foundation’s program that never charges the people and their families for transportation to and from their scheduled surgeries.

With cataracts being one of the leading causes of blindness in the Philippines it has never been more important than now to screen as many people as possible.