Enfoque Ixcán (“Focusing on the Ixcán”) is a non-profit organization which provides eye care and eye health education to a remote jungle region of Guatemala. Our program is unique in that we train, equip and otherwise enable local eye health promoters to provide eye care so that they can serve their communities on a year-round basis. They provide basic eye exams, eye glasses, eye health education and access to surgical care.
Enfoque Ixcán History
Guatemala’s Ixcán region, with over 100,000 residents, is located in the northwestern part of the country near the Mexican border. In 1996, while visiting the area, Portland, OR, optometrist Dr. Scott Pike met a poor Mayan subsistence farmer, named Pedro Chom. Pedro lived in a co-operatively formed village, Santa Maria Tzeja.
This chance meeting would change both their lives.
Every member of the co-operative is expected to volunteer for the good of the village and Pedro contributed a few hours of his time each week to work as a “health promoter”. To compensate for the lack of doctors in these remote areas, the government trains local residents on the basics of health care. From minor injuries to delivering a baby, they become the “health needs go-to people”. Although he took pride in and enjoyed his work as a health promoter Pedro was going to quit his job because he was having difficulty reading the instructions on the medicines he dispensed to his patients.
Dr. Pike realized that all Pedro needed was reading glasses. Like most other people in the Ixcán, he had no access to eye care and was too poor to afford it. The nearest eye doctor was six to ten hours away in the city of Coban. Few could afford the ride (in the back of a truck), the time away from their farms and families, or the doctors fees. When Dr. Pike returned to Portland he made up a pair of glasses and sent them back to Pedro.
Dr. Pike returned to the village the next year and with Pedro’s assistance launched an eye care project for this village. Enfoque Ixcán was born. The name Enfoque Ixcán means “Focusing on the Ixcán”. Through the years Pedro took on more and more of the village’s healthcare responsibilities and now, 14 years later, his volunteer work has evolved into a fulltime, paid, position, called the village health facilitator.
Purpose of the Organization
Over 40% of the people of the Ixcán area need glasses. Almost 5% are blind with cataracts. While most cataracts are found on older people, children and young adults are also being diagnosed with them.
Since 1996 Dr. Pike has methodically developed the project to bring primary eye care to this extraordinarily underserved population. Every year he spends a week in Santa Maria Tzeja teaching Pedro, Felipe Panjoj, who started working with Enfoque Ixcán in 2005, and now, Arnulfo Mejía, our newest eye health promoter who started in 2009, the basics of eye care including anatomy, optics, refraction, eye glasses dispensing, and disease recognition. Each time he visits, Dr. Pike takes the three men additional equipment and over time their skills and abilities have developed. To date they have examined over 2525 people from more than 80 different villages. Glasses are dispensed from an inventory which Dr. Pike re-stocks on his twice yearly visits.
With the addition of Arnulfo to our eye care team, we are now able to serve a larger area of the Ixcán. He works out of his pharmacy in the village of Mayalan on the western side of the region. The availability of affordable eye care brings people to Santa Maria Tzejá and Mayalan from all parts of the Ixcán.
Good eye care also includes education and prevention. Our eye health promoters have sun glasses and baseball hats available for protection from the ultra-violet rays of the sun and lubricating eye drops to protect from the drying effects from living around wood fires and the dust and wind. Informational brochures have been made for the teachers and the general public of the Ixcán. In this way they learn about vision, eye conditions, eye health, and the prevention of eye problems for all ages.
Growth of Enfoque Ixcán
Recent successes and future plans…
In August, 2013, Enfoque Ixcán and Amigos Eye Care of Pacific University College of Optometry joined forces for the 11th year in a row providing eye clinics in the Ixcán. We had 6 Pacific University students, 3 doctors and an additional volunteer on the team and held clinics in 3 different villages. All together we saw 1093 patients and delivered 319 pairs of glasses. Thirty-eight people were identified as needing eye surgeries.
Our eye health promoters, Pedro, Felipe and Arnulfo, now have an office to work from. The small space (10’x11’) is located in the main trading town in the Ixcán. Rather than working only from their home villages, which are time-consuming for patients to get to, they now provide people easier access to eye care. They had a sign made and are advertising their hours and presence on a local radio station.
In February 2013 we conducted a training and re-supplying trip for the eye health promoters, Felipe and Arnulfo. With the increased patient load our new office brings, we need to make sure the eye health promoters’ skills are up to date and that they have a good inventory of glasses and sunglasses.
In October 2012, Dr. Pike presented a talk at the American Public Health Association annual meeting in San Francisco. The presentation highlighted a recent survey Enfoque Ixcan conducted in the Ixcán concerning access to eye care.