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Costa Rica
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Rebeca Villalobos has developed a participatory system of eyecare that enables Costa Ricans of all classes to access affordable medical services ranging from basic vision tests to sophisticated surgical procedures.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

"In poor communities throughout Latin America, most citizens, adults and children alike, have never had their vision tested. The eyesight examination chart traditionally used in developed countries is an unfamiliar novelty in many places. Adults with deteriorating eyesight and more severe ocular problems, like cataracts, are commonly left to stumble along toward preventable blindness, typically jeopardizing the income-generating activities with which they support their families. Children with even slight vision problems are often misdiagnosed by their teachers as learning disabled and then placed in special needs classrooms. In communities where medical attention is already limited, local doctors and nurses are often untrained to detect basic ocular problems. The Ministry of Health does not include ocular care within its primary scope of services. Specialists are few and far between. Costa Rica has a total of only 70 ophthalmologists in the whole country, 75 percent of whom are located in the capital city of San José. Moreover, most of these doctors practice privately and their services cost much more than even a middle-class Costa Rican can afford. Demand for the ophthalmologists working within the Costa Rican social security system is so great that appointments must be made up to a year in advance. People living below the poverty line cannot afford the luxury of glasses or ocular surgery, even when they have been afforded basic vision testing. The ocular care dynamic is similar, if not worse, in other Central American countries and extends to the fields of hearing and dental care where low- and middle-income patients face a shortage of available options and where trained professionals are not equipped to handle the demand."

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Rebeca's innovative Little Windows of Light program trains schoolchildren as community-wide promoters of proper vision care. In schools around rural Costa Rica, children eagerly line up to shout out the figures they read from an eyesight exam chart posted at the front of their classrooms, while a classmate attentively records and explains each student's results. This groundbreaking program reflects one dimension of Rebeca's large-scale effort to reverse the trend toward preventable blindness in her native Costa Rica. Rebeca's work is centered on the notion that blindness is not strictly a health problem. Like deafness and dental decay, vision loss is a social problem that requires involvement from a range of community actors for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Undaunted by the shortage of optometry professionals and resources, she is working with doctors, nurses, medical students, teachers, suppliers, and even children to incorporate responsible eyecare into the fabric of everyday life. By reconceptualizing the field of eyecare, Rebeca is ensuring the affordability of vision care for even the poorest citizens of Costa Rica. Her plan for large-scale diagnosis, low-cost glasses, and high-volume, cost-efficient specialty clinics will help detect and correct vision and health problems on a massive scale. Rebeca plans on adapting her model of participatory vision treatment to other health fields, including hearing and dental care, where citizen-based initiatives and community partnerships could substantially reduce the incidence of preventable illness in Costa Rica and around Latin America.