Eye Hero Nomination for Dr. Mariano Yee from Seva Foundation

Congratulations on behalf of the VISION 2020 Latin America team!

Dr. Mariano Yee Melgar
Ophthalmologist;
Founder & President of the Board of Directors for VISUALIZA, Guatemala

  • Organisation and relationship to the IAPB: Member organisation, VISUALIZA
  • Region/Country/District of operation:  Provides ophthalmic services to all of Guatemala; also provides training and technical assistance as a mentoring institution for several other eye programs and NGOs across Central andSouth America.
  • Nature of the project/programme they work on:

VISUALIZA was established in 2002 as a Foundation for the prevention and cure of blindness initially in Guatemala but today also provides training and technical assistance in five other countries in the region. Its mission is to serve as a center of excellence for ophthalmic services and training throughout Latin America. Its primary objective is to enable the provision of high quality, high volume and efficient eye care services to all people regardless of ability to pay. Borrowing from the Aravind model, VISUALIZA operates a not-for-profit arm and a private services section to ensure financial sustainability. The social services section provides a full range of eye care either for free or heavily subsidized for persons with few resources.  VISUALIZA is the first eye care institution of this type in Latin Americaand was named as a regional demonstration center by the International Eye Foundation (IEF). VISUALIZA also works closely with IEF and the Seva Foundation’s program on Community Centers of Ophthalmology serving as a mentor institution for organizations and projects in Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, Peruand Nicaragua. VISUALIZA is breaking down barriers and changing the paradigm of how eye care is delivered to the poor in Latin America.

  • How the project/programme contributes to VISION 2020 inthe Region/Country/District:VISUALIZA, as part of Vision 2020, works inGuatemala andLatin Americato prevent and eliminate the major causes of blindness in order to give everyone the “Right to Sight”. VISUALIZA’s general objectives are to:
    • Reduce the incidence of reversible blindness for the poor caused by cataract and refractive error;
    • focus especially on surgery for patients over 50 years with cataract and extend services to women;
    • eradicate preventable blindness and eye disease in the general population;
    • raise public awareness on eye health;
    • involve as many people as possible (volunteers, promoters and eye care professionals) in eye health services for the benefit of the community;
    • promote VISUALIZA as a low cost or free option for quality services to the poor; and
    • serve as a member of Vision 2020 which seeks to raise awareness, mobilize resources, develop and implement national prevention programs to prevent blindness reaching in over 100 million blind people in the world  by 2020.
  • Description of the hero’s role in practical terms:

Dr. Mariano Yeeis a surgeon, trainer and visionary in public health. He helped to introduce the use of small incision cataract surgery inGuatemalaand the continent.  Realizing nearly twenty years ago that cataract was the leading cause of blindness in Guatemala and Latin America, he decided explore innovative ways to offer affordable surgery for people from all social strata. He stated with a two room private clinic in 2002 and then sought help from the global eye care community to expand operations to serve all people, paying and non-paying alike.  He traveled toAravindEyeHospitalfor exposure and training and invited the International Eye Foundation, Seva and CBM to collaborate with VISUALIZA.

  • Description of a typical day in the hero’s life or of a story to illustrate his/her works:

Since VISUALIZA operates two full service clinics, one in the capital city, and one in the remote Peten region.  On a typical day Dr Yee could be heading to morning surgery through the traffic of a major city or walking to the rural clinic in thevillageofSan Benito.  Regardless of where he is, many of his days start with a busy surgical schedule, followed by a long day of clinicalcare and follow up services.Besides being a busy surgeon, Mariano travels frequently to many countries to trainand advocate for VISUALIZA’s sustainable approach to eye care and Vision 2020’s goals.Despite managing growing and active organization, he serves as the President of the National Commission of Eye Health (Vision 2020 Committee) in Guatemala and is an active member of the Board Directors of Seva Foundation and Vision for the Poor.His efforts have made an enormous impact on the prevention of blindness in Guatemala and in many other countries

Today VISUALIZA, under Dr. Yee’s leadership, employees over 55 people, providing surgery and clinical services to thousands of Guatemalans. Last year VISUALIZA’s four surgeons conducted over 20% of the cataract surgery in the entire country. VISUALIZA’s school screening programs offer the only access to exams and glasses for thousands children in large parts of the country. During this past year, many of VISUALIZA’s community programs have benefitted from the partnership with the TOMS One for One Giving in Sight program.

  • High quality pictures of the hero (mugshot and in action).

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