Hundreds flock free eye-care event
But organisers say gov’t bureaucracy crippling effort
HUNDREDS of persons, some from as far as East Kingston, turned up at the doors of Spirit and Life Outreac Centre Jamaica on Slipe Road in the capital last week Saturday to benefit from a vision health fair aimed at giving away over 2,000 tested glasses.
One man, Renford Taylor, said he was the first to arrive at 4:50 am. By 6:00 am, 60 others had arrived and before 7:00 am the number had reached 150 individuals seeking to get their eyes examined and perhaps get a pair of glasses.
The event was hosted by a missionary team from the church's branch in Florida.
According to Reverend Manley Wisdom, leader of the Jamaican outreach which started in August 2012, the church has a mission focus but its main aim is the salvation of souls.
He said the decision to offer free eye examinations and lenses, where necessary, came about when Bishop Norman DaCosta from the Florida outreach decided to give back to his alma mater Rousseau Primary School and extended the gratitude to the wider community in the form of the health fair.
"Our Bishop, who is of Jamaican descent, came back to Jamaica after over 20 years because of the birth of this ministry and he was thinking how he could do something for his old school. One of the members who is here is from Spirit and Life Outreach in Miami and they have an organisation in Miami where they provide this kind of service, so we began to see how we could do this kind of service for Jamaica. So the team came down to do the school one day and the church today [last week Saturday]," Wisdom said.
He added that about 300 children from the primary school were screened and 200 pairs of glasses were distributed.
But even though the turnout was overwhelming, Wisdom said the team, which has also given aid to persons in Haiti, was used to dealing with large crowds.
But in the midst of doing good, the minister said he was frustrated at how the Jamaican Government dealt with the process of getting the team into the country to provide a free service.
"I have been engaged in this process with the Ministry of Health for over a month now and when I was heading to the airport on Thursday (June 5) evening to pick up the team, I received a phone call from the Ministry with a lot of obstacles. These guys are coming in to provide free service, bringing in over 2,000 pairs of glasses that takes the strain off a government because they are helping to provide for the poorest of the nation who can't afford these services and who need them very much "he said". The ophthalmologist closed his practice to come here and give free service and when the stuff gets here I have to pay duty and GCT plus other expenses to clear free stuff that you're going to give away to people.
"It's impossible for me to understand. I understand the processes I had to go through to register the guys to come down, to make sure they are actually certified to do the work they are saying they're going to do, but I cannot see how some of the regulations in place even prevent the Ministry of Health from doing some of the things they'd normally do in terms of waivers. The Ministry of Health, which is the Government, now has to form a charitable body if they want to be able to do things of a similar nature and it doesn't make sense. How are we going to go forward as a country if we can't afford to do some of these things for our own people and persons are coming to give the service for free but there is a lot of red tape involved?" he questioned.
He added that the 20 per cent duty was later reduced to five per cent but maintained that he cannot appreciate how the country will move forward under such circumstances.
"The rigmarole I had to go through to get this process set up had me saying to myself 'I don't need this stress'. There are schools and principals I know who have donors overseas and are saying to them 'don't send us anything; send us the cash because it costs too much to get free stuff'," Wisdom said.
In spite of that, however, he said organisers were looking into having the programme become an annual event with added services such as dental care and hypertension and diabetes checks.
Meanwhile, ophthalmologist Janis Dzelzkalns stressed that the initiative was geared towards helping the poor and not the rich.
"We're here for people who can't afford the service but need it. People who have maybe seen a doctor but can't afford to get the treatment or the glasses," he said.
"Seventy per cent of persons won't need glasses, but persons who are diabetic are here and one of the women I saw was bleeding in her eyes because of the diabetes and if she doesn't get something done about it, it would eventually lead to blindness," he said.