Philanthropic organization partners with Essilor, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania and EyeNetra to deliver vision correction for up to 1,500 underserved Tanzanians
MENOMONEE FALLS, Wis.- When SKYGEN USA co-founders Craig Kasten and Greg Borca established the company’s philanthropic arm, the SKYGEN International Foundation, in 2017, their stated goal was to take the innovative thinking and technology-enabled solutions that have helped commercial and government-sponsored health payers in the U.S. improve the delivery of care while lowering their costs and apply it to underserved populations around the world. That mission is now coming to fruition as the SKYGEN International Foundation today announced it will bring a vision correction initiative to citizens of the African nation of Tanzania during the week of July 9 -13, 2018.
“The SKYGEN International Foundation’s mission is to find cost-effective ways to improve healthcare in parts of the world where it has previously been lacking, thereby improving the quality of life in those areas,” said Lisa Sweeney, executive director of the SKYGEN International Foundation. “It’s been estimated that there are 2.5 billion people in the world who need glasses. Our intention is to start making a dent in that figure by traveling to Tanzania and delivering prescription eyeglasses to roughly 1,500 people who would otherwise not have access to necessary vision correction. We are thankful we have been able to find tremendous partners who are thoroughly committed to this goal of giving the gift of better vision to this population.”
The Foundation is partnering with Essilor, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT) and EyeNetra for this life-changing event. Essilor will supply 1,575 frames and 3,000 lenses from its Ready2Clip line, which will enable the team to immediately satisfy the needs of 70 to 80 percent of the Tanzanians who come to the four clinics and one hospital in Akheri, Kikatiti, Ngarenanyuki, King’ori and Nkoaranga. Those patients will walk out with a pair of glasses, along with a SKYGEN International Foundation-branded bag to hold the glasses that doubles as a cleaning cloth. Any custom prescriptions required for the remaining participants will be sent to Essilor’s lab in Nairobi, Kenya, for fulfillment.
“At Essilor, we have a strong mission that drives everything we do: improving lives by improving sight. We’re constantly looking for ways to reach the 500 million people in Africa who live with uncorrected poor vision – as with all public health issues of this size, it has to be a collaborative effort,” said Frédéric Corbasson, vice president of Group Mission, Europe and Africa, Essilor International. He continued, “This is why we are proud to partner with the SKYGEN International Foundation to deliver affordable quality glasses to many Tanzanians in need.”
Refractions for eyeglasses will be administered by optometrists supplied by SKYGEN USA and ELCT, which operates the four clinics and one hospital being used (out of more than 160 hospitals and clinics in total). ELCT is coordinating the logistics for the trip, including working with local government entities and ensuring the team follows all cultural norms and customs. Bishop Elias Kitoi is providing executive oversight on the ground in Tanzania, while his son, Emanuel Kitoi, is acting as project coordinator. The team will also work with Dr. Samuel Kiwesa, hospital director for Nkoaranga Lutheran Hospital, and Lynn Hooper, an experienced mission worker.
“ELCT is focused on propagating the ‘holistic’ Gospel serving man through spiritual, social, economic and environmental programs/interventions,” said Bishop Kitoi. “This is one more example of how we fulfill that mission. This project is going to liberate our people and make life easier for them by renewing their vision. I’m especially excited by what this will do for our pastors, who share our vision of seeing the people provided with the necessary resources to do well. It is very exciting to think of the difference it will make.”
EyeNetra is supplying a total of four auto refractors to use in taking 16 easy-to-understand measurements that are captured on a smartphone. The Foundation has also ordered four additional smartphones. The information gathered will be uploaded to the SKYGEN USA Enterprise System vision platform, where it will be stored and available for future use.
“We believe sharp vision is a fundamental human right,” said Greg Balla, director of implementation at EyeNetra. “Part of the problem is that traditional diagnostic equipment is expensive, cumbersome and can be challenging to travel with. That’s why we developed the EyeNetra system – to combine precision and portability with smart networked solutions, so organizations such as the SKYGEN International Foundation and ELCT can deliver eye care to where it’s needed. We are proud to partner with both organizations, and are gratified that we will be taking part in changing the lives of so many people in Tanzania, helping people to see this beautiful part of the world more clearly.”
During the week when the SKYGEN International Foundation partner team is in-country, 10-15 local residents will be trained on the use of the auto refractors as well as the operational procedures such as issuing vision care ID cards and forwarding patient information to SKYGEN USA securely so the company can enter it into its Enterprise System vision platform. The training will create new jobs where none previously existed while enabling the vision care program to become self-sustaining so it can continue to make a difference in the lives of Tanzanians long after the initial five-day event. Establishing an ongoing, local presence for basic eye care is critical, as Tanzania has roughly one ophthalmologist and three optometrists for every two million citizens.
“We don’t want to just come in for a week and change a few lives,” said Greg Borca, co-founder of SKYGEN USA and executive sponsor of the SKYGEN International Foundation. “The goal of all our initiatives is to ensure local workers gain the needed experience to continue the mission and maintain events on a regular basis, in this case bi-weekly, while also creating jobs for local residents. Traveling to Tanzania costs $3,000 per person, while doing the refractions for eyeglasses and outfitting individuals can be done for $5 each. By training local personnel we can ensure that more money is available to deliver more eyeglasses to more people.”
SKYGEN USA is no stranger to working with underserved populations. Since its founding, the company has been a leader in developing innovative technologies and solutions aimed at creating new levels of efficiency and effectiveness for Medicaid programs. Today its technology and services support over 11 million Medicaid member lives. The Enterprise System is currently the only technology built from the ground-up to manage Medicaid dental, vision and medical benefits on a single platform, making it ideally suited to the long-term goal of solving the global issue of delivering access to quality healthcare throughout the world.
“Here in the U.S., having access to quality vision care, even in the most rural areas, is often taken for granted,” Sweeney said. “That’s not the case in many parts of the world. We believe it is up to organizations such as ours to take what we know about delivering care efficiently and effectively, even on a small budget, to improve lives wherever, and however, we can.”