There is an obvious need for eye care around the globe, but far too many countries lack the resources to provide this essential part of healthcare to their citizens. So, out of the all the countries in the world…why was Guatemala chosen for this specific project? The simple answer is that when the project was originally started, Adam Anderson (M’12) chose because there is a need for basic eye care and he has connections to the town of San Pedro, Guatemala through Lewisburg community members. Since then, we’ve discovered that Guatemala is an ideal pilot location for Project for Sustainable Eye Care.
Most Guatemalans agree that the government should be responsible for providing access to basic healthcare for the citizens of its country, including eye care. However, the government simply does not have the resources to accomplish this duty. In addition, according to the World Bank, 53.7% of Guatemalans live below the poverty line. As a result of these factors, there is an essential societal need for health care across the country that is currently not being met.
Our pilot location is a region in a rural Guatemalan region comprised of six large villages (and about six smaller ones) around Lake Atitlan. It is estimated that the population of the “Lago de Atitlan” region is home to over 200,000 people. Our initial target location of San Pedro La Laguna comprises about 6,000 of this number. We chose to develop the business in a relatively rural location because these regions are typically passed over for medical care, as medical services are largely limited to Guatemala City. Institutions of higher learning and their graduates are largely limited in number and geographic coverage. There is only one university in Guatemala that has a program in optometry. This presents a challenge to those families that do not live in the direct vicinity of the city when medical issues arise.
Each research trip we take helps us to learn about cultural norms surrounding work life in various regions in Guatemala. The typical work-week in Guatemala is Monday to Saturday with Sunday reserved for rest. Men travel out of the house to work and women typically stay at home with the children throughout the day. If someone in the family needed care, the parent or parents would have to take off an entire day of work to travel to a major city to receive it. Some families would have to sacrifice more than one day of work to get to the city. For many parents, it is not viable to make the trip and pay the expenses unless a family member has a life or death situation.
During our initial trip to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, we found that small optometry shops currently exist in rural Guatemala. And, yes there are optometrists in some towns that are not particularly close to the city, however, you have to pay for an eye exam and then pay for a pair of glasses, which is often far beyond a typical families’ disposable income. There are also street vendors who sell glasses, however none offer eye exams. You simply just find a pair for yourself that look clearer than the last pair you tried on. Shockingly, it costs the average rural Guatemalan 51.4 days of work to afford glasses.