The World Health Organization estimates that at least 10 million people in the world live with trachoma, a disease which attacks the eyes and cost the UK over £185 million ($250 million) alone in 2017. In lower Manhattan, a health clinic based on a building owned by Howard Hughes Corporation is currently one of the few centers offering eye care in the US city. It’s in need of a new home.
“In the heart of the city, the center fills a glaring need that’s unlike any other,” said Dr. Richard Branson, an ophthalmologist, board member of DoctorAid, and early supporter of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. Dr. Branson met with author and activist Bono on Monday to announce a joint campaign to send the center to another location and fulfill its original mission.
Thanks to Dr. Branson’s generosity, the center will be given $1.3 million to relocate to a 12,000 square foot building overlooking LaGuardia Airport. This will mean it can stay on the east side of the city, away from traffic and pollution. It will also increase the number of doctors working in the center from six to twenty, and offer quadruple the space for the Lasik eye surgery, the center’s primary service.
DoctorsAid has built ten centers in underserved, war-torn countries over the past decade. Since it started, there have been more than 19 million eye surgeries performed and more than 67 million people treated for trachoma. Physicians also trained nearly 2,500 health workers in areas where there were no working eye clinics.
“We believe this campaign will be transformational for the center, and for the community as a whole,” Dr. Branson said. “Not only will this new location include running water and electricity, but it will enhance the quality of care and in the process, build a long-term lasting solution for those living in this area.”
Additionally, Bono pledged to raise £2 million ($2.5 million) to match a donation from Dr. Branson to support DoctorsAid efforts. Donations made to the campaign will also be matched up to £50,000 ($67,000) a day.
“The situation in the south west of Uganda is very grim, where plastic gutters which end in open sewers, have made it almost impossible for people to breathe and leave the city,” Bono said. “Eighty percent of children under five suffer from lack of healthcare, and trachoma which was once endemic in 5% of the city in 1986 is now endemic in 60% of the city.”
“Fortunately, care is free and eye surgery can restore the sight of tens of thousands of children. We hope that doubling this number will make a huge difference.”
A human rights group, War Child UK, has been supporting the clinic in lower Manhattan since it opened in 1993. Executive Director Katie Carnegan joined Bono and Dr. Branson in New York at the press conference.
“The eye clinic offers a lifeline for kids in need of the eye care that the cuts caused,” she said. “The project has brought an end to the constant harassment and stigma of trachoma caused by the cameras. That’s the message we’d like to see also reach the millions of people affected by the fight against trachoma.”