Curing 20 million people of blindness sounds like a formidable task, but a local doctor and several Newport Beach businesses are leading the charge to do just that.
The One World Sight Project was founded by Newport Beach ophthalmologist Richard Weiss nine years ago with the belief that someone needed to lead the effort to treat the almost 80% of worldwide cases of blindness that are curable
Weiss said of the 42 million people who are visually impaired worldwide, 20 million suffer from bilateral cataracts, which can be cured with a 20-minute, $30 operation.
“This is a real problem,” Weiss said. “There are more doctors in the San Francisco greater metropolitan area than on the entire continent of Africa.”
Weiss’ effort has grown to include consultants and advisers from the World Health Organization and Volunteer Eye Surgeons Association. The program also has the support of Stevie Wonder, who serves as a special adviser, and South African President Nelson Mandela, a former patient of Weiss.
Despite all the big names involved, Weiss said One World Sight Project’s most valuable support has come from Newport Beach businesses, which have donated time and services to help the cause.
The help started in 1991, when the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers worked pro bono to set up the program as a nonprofit corporation. Gene Rhodes of Causey and Rhodes followed up by providing the office space for the group free of charge.
Now all of the accounting is performed pro bono by KPMG Peat Marwick and the One World Sight Project Web site is maintained free of charge. With the exception of the Internet Company, all of the contributing businesses are located in Newport Beach.
It’s really pretty amazing so many people here are doing so much,,” Weiss said. “It’s an international effort, but a lot of the work is done locally.”
While One World Sight Project has gained about $75,000 in donations over the telephone and throughout the Web site, the primary fund-raising effort will be a telethon that its tentatively set for September 1999.
The goal of the telethon, which will be held simultaneously in England, Germany, Japan and the United States – is to raise $25 million to $75 million. The goal is also to provide cataract surgery for 10,000 people during the telethon.
“Restoring vision is just a miracle to people in countries like India,” Weiss said. “I can’t describe what it means to bring such an important change in their life.