Non-profit seeking to cure blindness up for $100M grant

WATERBURY, Vt. (AP) " A Vermont-based nonprofit group that works to cure blindness in Nepal and other developing countries is one of eight semifinalists for a $100 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The Waterbury-based Himalayan Cataract Project, based out of a rented office in a church parsonage, has been working for years to train local health care providers to perform cataract and laser surgery in Nepal and other countries.

The organization was co-founded in 1995 by Nepalese Dr. Sanduk Ruit and Dr. Geoff Tabin, formerly of the University of Vermont Medical Center and now at the University of Utah.

"They had a shared motivation that the right to sight is a human right and that no one anywhere in the world should receive care of a different or lower quality," said Job Heintz, the chief executive officer of the nonprofit, formed in 2003 to carry out the vision of the doctors. It now has 10 employees and an annual budget of about $9 million.

Over the years the organization has provided eye care for thousands of patients by training health care providers and providing equipment and other infrastructure.

"The quality of eye health care has dramatically risen, nowhere better than in Nepal," Heintz said on Thursday.

The Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation announced Wednesday that the Cataract Project was one of eight organizations chosen as semifinalists from among 1,904 proposals, for the $100 million grant program. The foundation says the competition is for "proposals promising real progress toward solving a critical problem of our time in any field or any location."

The winner would receive the entire $100 million.

Other semifinalists include Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore, which is working to change the way children are cared for in orphanages, and The Carter Center in Atlanta, which is working to eliminate river blindness in Nigeria.

The winner will be chosen in December.

The Cataract Project got its start at the Tilganga Eye Centre in Kathmandu, Nepal, which performed its first outpatient cataract surgery in 1994. Ruit and Tabin started the Cataract Project a year later.

At the Tilganga Centre providers now see about 1,000 patients a day for a variety of eye care needs.

Tabin worked at what is now the University of Vermont Medical Center from 1995 to 2005. The project opened Vermont offices in Waterbury and Norwich in 2003

The Cataract Project already has expanded its operations to a number of other countries, but the grant would be to expand operations in Nepal, Ethiopia and Ghana.

If they win the grant, the organization would increase the work it currently does, such as training doctors and support staff in their home countries and at other locations, including the United States.

"We know what we would do with every dollar," Heintz said.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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