HelpMeSee brings surgical simulation training and cost-effective solutions to cataract blindness into Latin America.
Innovative thinkers see possibility all around them. This ability to see is something many of us take for granted. But when cataracts develop, colors fade, vision clouds and is sometimes lost completely.
“No one should suffer from needless blindness,” Mohan Jacob Thazhathu, President, and CEO of HelpMeSee, told nuviun.
Thazhathu’s vision of a world where cataract blindness is completely curable – even for those living in remote villages in developing countries – is completely overhauling cataract surgery.
HelpMeSee is reducing costs, ensuring quality and safety, and increasing access to cataract surgeries for thousands of people who would otherwise remain blind. The organization has developed technology to train surgeons via lifelike simulators and prepared, pre-sterilized, single-use surgical supply kits. It uses a global information system (GIS) to help identify regions most in need of surgeons, and connects patients with surgeons in their area.
HelpMeSee Names Dr. Van Charles Lansingh as Medical Officer, Latin America
Most recently, HelpMeSee named Dr. Van Charles Lansingh as Medical Officer of the Latin America region. In this role, he will lead the campaign's work with surgical partners throughout Latin America and the Caribbean while also serving as the lead for blindness and public health research.
In Latin America, HelpMeSee opened facilities in Lima and Trujillo, Peru, in 2014. The organization plans to open two additional Latin American facilities in 2015: one in Montemorelos, Mexico and one in Monterrey, Mexico.
Dr. Lansingh has a wealth of international experience in ophthalmology and public health. His medical degree is from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico City, Mexico, with residency and postgraduate work in Mexico City.
In 2005, Dr. Lansingh was awarded a Ph.D. in health sciences from the University of Melbourne in Australia after fieldwork with Aboriginal communities in Central Australia. He has held various positions in Papua New Guinea, Australia, and Latin America and was Regional Coordinator in Latin America for the International Association for the Prevention of Blindness’ VISION 2020 campaign from 2004-2014.
In 2012, he was named Voluntary Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at the Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami and Director of International Outreach in the Department of Ophthalmology, Hamilton Eye Institute, at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
"We are delighted to have Van's expertise in ophthalmology and public health leading the HelpMeSee campaign to eliminate cataract blindness in Latin America," said Mohan Jacob Thazhathu, President and CEO of HelpMeSee. "Van will play a pivotal role in developing HelpMeSee learning centers and surgical partners in the region. His extensive research experience is critical to achieving the highest standards of patient care and quality assurance fundamental for the success of the HelpMeSee campaign."
Blindness in Latin America
In Peru, the incidence of blindness decreased from 4% in 2002 to 2.1% in 2011. Though this trend is positive, the percentage of blindness caused by cataracts actually increased from 53% to 58% during that same time. This is significantly higher than the global average. Globally, cataract blindness is responsible for 51% of all blindness, according to the World Health Organization.
In Mexico, there is a pressing need to train more cataract surgeons, as more than 2 million residents have untreated cataracts. HelpMeSee will target these regions first in Latin America, providing cataract surgeries at a fraction of the cost through its innovative technologies.
"I am extremely impressed with the technology that HelpMeSee has developed, including surgical simulation and GIS-GPS systems," said Dr. Lansingh. "These will be paramount to reaching more patients and training more cataract specialists in a safe environment. HelpMeSee's systems provide a platform for evidence-based practice and follow-up of patients to reach the highest levels of restored vision."
The HelpMeSee Model
The vision for HelpMeSee first came to co-founder Albert L Ueltschi (1917-2012) when he realized the discrepancy between the number of people needing cataract surgeries and the number of surgeons around the world. Despite the fact that cataract surgery is an effective intervention, in many remote and poor areas of the developing world people remain blind from cataracts due to the lack of access to qualified cataract surgeons.
Surgical training can take 4-8 years. Ueltschi, founder of FlightSafety International, a global leader in aviation simulation training technology, thought his simulation technology might translate to surgical training. With HelpMeSee’s virtual reality cataract surgical training simulator, HelpMeSee trains in-country specialists to perform manual small incision cataract surgeries (MSICS) on adults and children.
HelpMeSee’s unique model combines best-in-class surgical partners, effective use of technology and best practices to train more surgeons – in less time – to perform low-cost, high-quality MSICS on adults and children in the developing world.