November 5, 2018: A procedure that could cost upwards of US$1000, Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT) surgery helps to prevent or delay blindness in persons suffering from open-angle glaucoma. This past month, the Sandals Foundation and Great Shape! iCARE program offered this service free of cost to 255 residents in St. Ann and surrounding areas at a free eye clinic set up at the Steer Town Methodist Church.
For the past nine years, the Sandals Foundation and Great Shape! Inc. partnership has created access to free eye – care and dental services for over 207,000 Caribbean residents. As both organizations move into their 10th anniversaries, they have expanded their offerings to, for the first time, include free SLT surgeries for needy residents.
Executive Director of the Sandals Foundation, Heidi Clarke, said the clinic gives residents access to basic health services and procedures, some of whom have never seen an eye specialist before.
“When you have a community member who has been suffering for years with a condition finally being able to see clearly for the first time, you’ll understand why it is so important for us to continue supporting and offering these clinics. For the past nine years this eye care clinic, as well as the free dental clinics, have provided critical services to thousands of residents across the region, a feat that we are very proud of and something that we hope to continue for years to come.”
Seventy-four-year-old Carmen Jones traveled from Islington, St Mary to make use of what she called “a once in a lifetime opportunity”.
“I was so happy when the free eye clinic was announced in my church. All it cost me was taxi money. There were lots of people but the team of volunteers was extremely organized, friendly and professional and I was able to get my free surgery and sunglasses.
She added, “I could not afford to pay for this service as I am retired with minimal income. Before, I was told I had to go to the doctor and pay plenty of money for the treatment. I am still saving and can’t reach the amount yet. I am glad I went to church and found out, my God is always on time.”
According to Steven Stern, Executive Director of Great Shape! iCARE, the program has served over 37,658 patients and distributed over 71,000 pairs of glasses to residents in Jamaica and Turks and Caicos.
“This is our first year providing Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT) for open-angle glaucoma using a YAG laser. This will prevent glaucoma sufferers from going blind and eliminate continued optic nerve damage. We are thrilled to offer this SLT laser surgery as a new treatment for iCARE’s 10th anniversary. This is also our 5-year anniversary of providing free cataract surgeries in local hospitals. To date, we have performed 142 surgeries, often restoring vision to those who had completely lost their sight.” The clinic has also performed screenings for diabetes and hypertension for several thousand residents over the years, providing goods and services valued at over US$8.7 million.
Since its inception in 2009, the Sandals Foundation has supported the Great Shape! Inc. to provide free eye-care, dental services, literacy and teacher training programs to residents in several Caribbean islands, with Sandals Resorts International proving accommodation and the Foundation covering meals, transportation, communications, and providing logistical support to all volunteers to make these missions possible. This year, the clinic expanded outside of Jamaica for the first time, conducting a clinic in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos where volunteers served 2482 patients.