Optometry Podcast: Difference Maker Mr. Paul O’Rourke

Every 5 seconds, someone in the world goes blind.  This sobering statistic from the World Health Organization underscores how underserved the eyecare needs of our global community truly are.  An estimated 35 million people are blind worldwide, and 80% of those people are treatable with modern medicine.

Bringing underserved populations access to eyecare is the mission behind Vision Health International. Founded back in 1985 by Dr. Robert Abernathy, Vision Health International has grown from a small group of doctors, nurses, and volunteers providing ocular healthcare on mission trips to Ecuador to an organization that has completed over 78 field missions and performed over 35,000 eye exams. Doctors, healthcare workers, and volunteers with the program serve those in need across Latin America and Eastern Europe, and have newly expanded into the United States to offer care at the Rosebud Indian Reservation beginning in the summer of 2019.

We sat down with Mr. Paul O’Rourke, President of the Vision Health International Board of Volunteers to learn more about the work they do and how to get involved. His first experience with Vision Health International was back in 1999 when his wife, ophthalmologist Dr. Melinda O’Rourke, volunteered them both to serve on a mission trip to Leon, Nicaragua.  Since that very first trip, he has never looked back!

Compared to other organizations, Vision Health International is different in that they only go on missions to areas where they are invited or requested to set up care by the country’s government, and their goal is to leave behind sustainable healthcare systems when their mission trip is completed. Not only do they perform eye exams and donate glasses (cut in the patients’ real prescription same day due to generous donations of lab equipment from Essilor!), but they also bring training and seminars to local healthcare workers to help build a permanent community of eyecare in the area.  Mr. O’Rourke says the goal with VHI is to eventually put themselves out of operation – establishing continuous access to care in remote areas so that their volunteer team isn’t needed there anymore.

If you want to get involved, Vision Health International has a number of international and domestic volunteer opportunities coming soon! Head to this website to see upcoming missions or here if you would like to donate to their cause.

This podcast was recorded in partnership with Essilor as a part of their #DifferenceMakers series. Essilor is committed to improving lives by improving sight, and this year they are recognizing eyecare providers making a change in their local and international communities by honoring them as DifferenceMakers. If you know of an eyecare professional that is changing the lives of those around them with their service and dedication, nominate them to be recognized as a Difference Maker in 2019 by heading to this website. Three #DifferenceMakers will get a chance to join Essilor on a service trip to Southeast Asia in 2019.

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