A Need Fulfilled
It all started in November 2007 when OFPHIL and the Government of Ifugao Province brought this alarming fact to the attention of RSI’s officers: Ifugao and nearby provinces have the highest incidence of blindness in the entire Philippines. Clearly, something had to be done, and RSI did not waste a moment. No less than Dr. Felipe Tolentino himself, leading a team made up of Drs. Roland Houle, Flora Tolentino and Jesse B. Caguiao conducted a site visit. From thereon, one good thing led to another:
- In August 2008, RSI announced that the beautiful campus of Ifugao State College of Agriculture and Forestry [ISCAF, now Ifugao State University (IFSU)] in the town of Alfonso Lista (9 hours by car north of Manila) would be the site for an eye center that would in time become a state-of-the-art regional facility for outpatient eye care.
- On January 26, 2009, a convocation was held in Alfonso Lista for the signing of an historic Memorandum of Agreement between OFPHIL (RSI’s Philippine partner organization) and ISCAF (representing the Provincial Government of Ifugao) amidst festivities that included a ground breaking ceremony and the burial of a time capsule. Among the guests of honor were officials of the Ifugao Provincial Government, Congressman Solomon Chungalao, ISCAF President Serafin Ngohayon, Provincial Health Board Member Dr. Joseph Odan, mayors of some Ifugao municipalities, officers/trustees of OFPHIL, officers/directors of RSI, and executives of the Lopez Group of Companies – all of whom were enthusiastic supporters of the project.
- The project received initial funding from the Ifugao Provincial Government and the Philippine Congress through the efforts of Congressman Solomon Chungalao. Ground clearing, leveling and construction were soon underway.
- By the end of August 2009, the building was standing proud against the blue Ifugao sky – erected in record time!
- On 26 January 2010, the IOEC Ifugao State University (IFSU) / Ophthalmological Foundation of the Philippines (OFPHIL) Eye Center was inaugurated with more than 150 guests in attendance, including high-ranking provincial government official from Ifugao and neighboring provinces, officers of OFPHIL from Manila, and RSI officers from Boston, MA USA. Operations went into full swing shortly thereafter. In fact, during the week of the inauguration, over one hundred eye patients were screened and more than 50 patients were diagnosed to have cataract blindness, the latter scheduled for cataract surgery as expeditiously as possible.
- In 2011 RSI donated a YAG laser, slowly but surely building the Eye Center’s armamentarium of expensive, sophisticated, devices for the treatment and cure of a variety of eye disorders. Next in sight: an Argon laser donation. The Philippine government’s newly-instituted program of universal health insurance which reimburses health facilities for the health care of indigent patients ensures the project’s sustainability in the long run.
- In 2012 the Executive Committees of RSI and OFPHIL voted to name the Center’s two operating rooms in honor of the Güells and the Elzaburus of Madrid, Spain two distinguished families from Madrid, Spain headed by RSI Board Members Alfonso Güell y Martos (Marques de Comillas and Alberto de Elzaburu (Marques de La Esperanza), respectively. The honor commemorates the families’ loyal support and magnificent contributions which have made possible the construction of ambulatory eye center. Special plaques affixed to the exterior of the twin operating rooms gratefully acknowledge their humanitarian concern for the underserved people of the Philippines.
- Today, the center serves the visually impaired among the indigents of Ifugao and neighboring provinces in the Cagayan Valley where more than 40,000 suffer from cataract blindness. Eye Center Administrator, Ms. Doris Beyer (RN), reports that while cataracts are the most frequently encountered cases requiring surgery, patients with pterygium and glaucoma are also seen. Patients suffering from the complications of diabetes also constitute a large group. Hundreds of people of all ages come to the center or to the sites of outreach missions for consultation and medical treatment.
- The center also serves as a training site for students desiring to become eye assistants or technicians, an idea initiated by Provincial Health Board Member Joseph Odan with the support of Congressman Chungalao.
RSI, through OFPHIL, provides continuing support through eye equipment donations, training of eye care professionals, and management of the facility with the cooperation of IFSU.
The establishment of this new eye center is an historic event. The first OFPHIL/RSI eye care center outside of Metro Manila, it represents the largest commitment of resources that RSI has ever dedicated to a single project, and will surely serve as a model for similar future projects.