American Indian Sight Initiative Expanding eye care for Native communities
For over 30 years, Seva Foundation’s Native American program has addressed a broad range of community issues from cultural preservation to educational and economic development, conservation, and health and wellness. This year, the Native American Community Health program transitioned into the American Indian Sight Initiative (AISI), a U.S. based program focused on addressing vision needs among American Indians.
AISI stems from Seva’s efforts to streamline our mission and tap into our global expertise in providing vision care, while still honoring our commitment to serving American Indians. We have found many parallels between the eye health needs of American Indians and the underserved communities we support around the world.
Despite the existence of U.S. government supported tribal health programs, unmet eye health needs among American Indians are significant:
Only a minority of tribal health programs have an eye care provider on-site.
Tribal health programs that provide vision services do not have adequate funding, staffing, or equipment.
Due to their limited resources, most programs cannot conduct outreach activities, so providers must wait for patients to come into the clinic.
Language and other cultural barriers prevent American Indians from seeking eye care. Few eye care providers are American Indian.
Many American Indians cannot access existing eye care services due to limited incomes and transportation as well as long waiting lists.
Unless American Indians have insurance coverage, they must pay out of pocket for eyeglasses, which are still out of reach for many on a limited income.
American Indians are at greatest risk for diabetic eye disease, such as diabetic retinopathy, due to having the highest rates of diabetes among all racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. However, only half of American Indian diabetics get a recommended annual eye exam.
Seva Foundation is expanding eye care services and training to American Indian communities in California and New Mexico. Seva is also exploring how to make glasses more affordable and telemedicine opportunities in the provision of prescription eyeglasses and diabetic retinopathy screening.
School Screening Program in New Mexico
Seva Foundation and Helen Keller International have partnered to support ChildSight,® a program in the Gallup, New Mexico area that provides students with vision screenings and prescription eyeglasses, all at no cost to their families. This program eliminates the transportation and affordability barriers to receiving eye care by bringing the vision screeners, optometrist, and glasses to schools.
In the 2012-2013 academic year, this program screened 5,209 students and provided 1,501 students (29%) with a pair of prescription eyeglasses. In addition, 221 (4%) students were referred for follow-up care.
Navajo children tend to have a higher rate of astigmatism, one of the three types of refractive error, the others being nearsightedness and farsightedness. Compounding this high prevalence is the critical level of rural poverty within the Navajo reservation. When a child receives a free pair of eyeglasses, we're not only providing them with the ability to see clearly – we're also giving them back their potential to learn, to earn a living, and to engage with the world.
Vision Technician Training at a Tribal Community College
Seva Foundation and the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), a tribal community college in Albuquerque, NM, have created a unique program designed to provide economic opportunities and prevent unnecessary blindness among American Indians. Seva provides much needed equipment and supplies for training and community outreach, as well as support for students to become certified. This essential exam allows graduates to secure employment as vision technicians in American Indian communities often lacking affordable, accessible eye care services