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EMPOWERING THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED

Gone are dark clouds that had them blind

INDONESIA • Farmer Kasnan Wonidin thought his life was over when he began losing his eyesight to cataracts last year.

The 48-year-old from a village in Gresik regency in East Java had to give up work, stop riding his motorbike and say goodbye to his favourite pastimes like catching crabs.

Corrective surgery at five million rupiah (S$530) per eye was well beyond his means. Like millions of other low-income cataract sufferers in Indonesia, a country of nearly 260 million people, he could only prepare to go blind.

He said: "I felt so sad. Where can a poor farmer like me find so much money?"

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Mr Kasnan's worry ended last May, when the Singapore-based non-profit organisation A New Vision gave him a free small-incision cataract surgery, a quick surgical procedure that cut out and replaced his cloudy natural lenses with clear intraocular ones. It costs the organisation $100 per eye.

A New Vision aims to treat cataracts in countries such as Indonesia, where half of all blindness is caused by cataracts, through the quick, safe and low-cost procedure.

The organisation was set up in 2010 by Nepali humanitarian eye surgeon Sanduk Ruit, 62, Singaporean entrepreneur and philanthropist Tan Ching Koon, 60, Indonesian social worker Indra Wahidin, 65, and Ms Effi Jono, 48, an accountant from Indonesia.

To date, A New Vision's volunteer eye surgeons have performed nearly 20,000 operations for the rural poor through its surgical outreach events in Java and Sumatra.

With funds from multinational companies, foundations and private donors, it has sent 25 doctors for training in specialised eye surgery in Nepal. It is also sending nurses to be trained in eye screening and post-operative follow-up care, and is raising funds to build a high-quality but affordable community eye centre in Indonesia.

Ms Effi said: "Eye care should be a right, not a privilege."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Gone are dark clouds that had them blind'. Print Edition | Subscribe