Newswise — (SALT LAKE CITY) - Senator and ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R-Ky) will join a medical team from the University of Utah’s John A. Moran Eye Center at a weeklong surgical camp in Guatemala beginning Aug. 14. The team plans to perform 200 sight-restoring cataract surgeries while working with local clinicians to improve care in the remote region of Baja Verapaz.

“We are pleased to be joined by Sen. Paul in our efforts to provide humanitarian care in Guatemala,” said Randall J. Olson, M.D., CEO of the John A. Moran Eye Center and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “His participation is bringing attention to the huge problem of global blindness and the work we are doing to eradicate it.”

The senator was connected to the Moran Eye Center after he sought a recommendation from the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Foundation for a strong international outreach program that he could accompany on a medical mission.

“The Moran Eye Center has one of the strongest international ophthalmology departments and has tremendous expertise in organizing and conducting sight-restoring missions around the world. We recommended them to Sen. Paul because they have a seasoned team and a successful model for humanitarian work in the developing world,” said David Chang, M.D., International Committee Chair, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Foundation.

Need for Care

Thirty-nine million people worldwide are blind, and 90 percent of them live in poverty in developing countries. For every blind person, 2.5 individuals are lost from the workforce as others must stop work or school to care for their vision-impaired relatives. The loss of productivity adds up to $2.7 trillion each year, according to statistics from the World Health Organization. The good news is that four out of five blind people could be cured at any modern eye clinic; the bad news is that they lack access to care.

The region of Baja Verapaz is home to 800,000 people who are served by only two ophthalmologists. Moran’s August trip is just the beginning of what is expected to be a long-term relationship between Baja Verapaz and the Moran Eye Center. Moran physicians have pledged to return to the region for a surgical mission each year and to train the region’s newest ophthalmologist, who completed her education earlier this year.

Education is the key to sustainability in preventing and curing global blindness. In addition to holding multiple surgical camps each year, Moran’s Outreach Division trains doctors and hospital staff in 25 countries on six continents and brings promising international surgeons to Utah for intensive training.

“By training doctors and helping them develop world-class surgical skills, we are ensuring that care continues long after we’ve left. Our trainees also go on to become medical leaders in their home hospitals, transferring new knowledge and skills to their colleagues and students,” said Alan S. Crandall, M.D., Co-director of the Moran Outreach Division and Senior Vice-chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

“Sen. Paul has a commitment to providing charitable care that makes him a good fit for our program. Service is truly part of our mission here, not only for our physicians but also for our staff,” added Michael Yei, Moran Outreach Program Manager. “We have many volunteers who give their time to provide eye care both in Utah and globally.”

Moran is working with several Guatemalan partners including a local hospital and government officials. Moran is also working with the American Society for Cataract and Refractive Surgery and the Hope Alliance, a Utah nonprofit organization based in Park City that provides glasses and medical care to individuals in need in the developing world.

About the University of Utah's John A. Moran Eye Center

The John A. Moran Eye Center, part of University of Utah Health Care, is the premiere center for ophthalmology in the Intermountain West and is the largest eye care facility between California and Michigan. With collaborators from around the world, research advancements at the center provide new diagnoses, novel treatments, and creative new procedures designed to cure blinding eye diseases. Moran specialists cover every field of vision care including conditions like age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, cornea, and external eye diseases. The Moran Eye Center offers the latest advances in LASIK and refractive surgery as well as a full range of optometry services, including contact lenses and eyeglasses.

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