GHIC 2019: Global Health & Innovation Conference
April 13-14, 2019
Yale University, New Haven, CT

Unite For Sight's 2010 Global Health & Innovation Conference

Blog Report By Indu Voruganti, Unite For Sight Global Health Leadership Intern

Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship

This session was packed with many inspiring speakers and innovative ideas in global health and social entrepreneurship. I was highly anticipating this session because Partners in Health (PIH) had been recently been in the media spotlight after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12th, 2010. In response to the earthquake, PIH established a Stand With Haiti campaign, raising funds and recruiting qualified medical personnel to serve relief efforts in the disaster zone. Also, I was really looking forward to hearing Ms. Jennifer Staple-Clark’s talk. Ms. Staple-Clark is the Founder and CEO of Unite for Sight, the mastermind behind the whole Global Health and Innovation Conference, as well as a truly inspiring young leader in global health.

The session began with a talk on “Innovation in PIH Implementation Sites” by Cate Oswald, MPH, Program Manager for Psychosocial Support and Mental Health, Haiti for Partners in Health. Ms. Oswald began by talking about the challenges that PIH workers face, particularly the challenge in delivering care in a post-earthquake environment. Tasks such as cataloging and prioritizing cases with no medical history as well as coordinating and transporting volunteers can often prove to be difficult. However, the PIH structure enabled a fast and rooted response. The healthcare system adopted by PIH is a home-based system, working to respond to acute needs: increasing access to water, capacitating OR’s which were in great need at field sites, creating mobile clinics, etc. However, the camp was filled to the brim with almost 48,000 people, and lacking in security. Despite these conditions, workers continued to work to deliver aid to the people struck by the catastrophe.

In addition to providing aid, PIH works to invest in the local economy through responding to long-term medical needs such as physical therapy, prosthetics manufacturing, and locally produced nutritional supplements. PIH is also working to develop a mental health system in Haiti. However, as the rainy season in Haiti approaches, a new challenge will be presented in resettlement of the camp. Despite the many challenges that they face, PIH will continue to provide aid through service, training, advocacy, and research, with the continued support of sponsors and partners.

The next talk was given by Ian Rawson, a replacement speaker for Gene Falk, who was not able to attend the conference due to the Iceland volcano that kept him stuck in Europe. Another scheduled speaker, Elmira Bayrasli, was also stuck in Europe due to the volcano. Ian Rawson is Board Chair of Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti. In their recently implemented program in Haiti, all of the doctors and healthcare providers are Haitians who are in Haiti permanently. This allows for long-term sustainability of the healthcare system established in response to the earthquake. In the relief effort, small planes were used to bring in supplies to the sites, and rehab technician students volunteered on-site. Ian Rawson closed by saying, “Haiti needs to be built, not re-built”.

The final talk of this session was given by Jennifer Staple-Clark, Founder and Chief Executive Office of Unite for Sight. The talk focused on “Investing in Local Social Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries”, drawing on some initiatives undertaken by Unite for Sight, a non-profit organization that supports eye clinics by investing human and financial resources in their social ventures to eliminate patient barriers to care. Ms. Staple-Clark began by saying that those interested in investing in local social entrepreneurship should think creatively, and use a whole new way of approaching problems. In developing countries, there is a lack of resources and networks that are necessary to tap local talent. Unite for Sight invests in the talent of local eye care professionals, enabling them to provide care for their regular paying patients while concurrently bringing care to patients living in poverty in villages and refugee camps. The key to the success of the program lies in that Unite for Sight partners with local medical professionals who are social entrepreneurs. The organization invests everything necessary for the outreach programs, and each eye clinic partner delivers healthcare to a large radius. In order to provide outreaches to remote areas, the local partner clinic needs outreach vehicles, transport, and an outreach team of local medical professionals. The outreach process consists of a patient intake, visual acuity screening, examination and diagnosis by the local eye care professionals, and an educational component that instructs patients on medications, their uses, etc. The patients needing advanced care such as surgery are transported back to the eye clinic for surgery by the local ophthalmologist. In addition to the initial outreach, the physicians have monthly revisits with the patients in their villages to follow up and keep track of the progress of their eye health. An important component of the Unite for Sight program is the Global Impact Corps Program which provides an immersive global health experience for students and for professionals who can also assist in areas such as research, education, writing, and other projects. The program also allows volunteers to design and implement research studies. Unite for Sight has also started several new educational initiatives designed by the organization, and then implemented by the Fellows, and evaluated by IRB-approved research. The overall impact has been large. Outputs include those in the deepest poverty being able to receive the gift of sight because of eye care and surgery, dramatically improving their overall social and economic conditions. Additionally, the numbers of patients with improved vision and the surgical rate by the clinics and within the countries have both increased significantly. I am truly inspired by the work of Ms. Jennifer Staple-Clark, and believe that Unite for Sight is a leader in delivering high-impact healthcare to those who need it most.

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