Marymount University has partnered with Global Health Ministry and community health advocates in Chulucanas, Peru, to establish the Peru Eye Health Project. Living in a remote area of northern Peru, Chulucanas residents have limited access to health care, including vision services. This initiative will provide them with education and preventive care, as well as improved access to treatment.
After an initial trip in late 2011 to conduct a pilot study and assess needs, a Marymount team returned in summer 2012 to lay the foundation for an ongoing, sustainable eye health campaign. The team consisted of Dr. Alyson Eisenhardt, assistant professor of Health Care Management; Dr. Shirley Jarecki, professor of Nursing; and an interdisciplinary team of five graduate students in the Health Care Management (HCM) and Health Promotion Management (HPM) programs.
Dr. Eisenhardt explains, “Chulucanas is subject to intense sunlight because it is so close to the equator, which also contributes to a hot, dusty, dry climate. These elements are connected with a medical condition that is rampant among the Peruvian population called pterygium, a noncancerous eye growth that may lead to visual distortions, astigmatisms and, in its extreme, vision loss.”
She adds, “Prevention is a simple solution of wearing sunglasses, hats, and washing hands. But, in Chulucanas, a town of 64,000 residents, there is a lack of resources as well as a lack of public information to focus on the problem. The Marymount initiative seeks to develop a sustainable program to promote good eye health practices. We don’t want to just give sunglasses away; we want to educate the populace to act in their own best interests.”
A major obstacle that they face is a cultural resistance to wearing sunglasses. “Peruvians like to look people in the eyes as a sign of trust,” Dr. Eisenhardt points out. “Beyond that, wearing sunglasses is just not considered cool.”
Knowing that the key to success lies in the public buy-in, the Marymount team enlisted the support and collaboration of local organizations and leaders that are influential in the community and can provide the structure to disseminate educational materials and conduct eye screenings on an ongoing basis. They also planned high profile eye-health promotional events.
Glenda Palomino-Nuflo is a dual-degree candidate in the Business Administration/Health Care Management (MBA./HCM) programs and a native Peruvian. Part of the interdisciplinary team, she says, “We worked with the Diocesan Women’s Center to develop a business plan, met with ministry officials to provide materials to schools, and enlisted the aid of the local optometrist, who has agreed to sell sunglasses supplied by Marymount at a discount. He will also help with the eye health campaign going forward.”
The group concentrated on marketing efforts that would contribute to a sustainable eye health campaign. Palomino-Nuflo helped create a sunglass-wearing “cool cat” logo for use on educational materials and is currently working on plans to feature a Peruvian soccer celebrity, also wearing sunglasses, to be the face of future marketing campaigns.
The Health Promotion Management students focused on high visibility projects while in country. Jennifer Walters, an HPM graduate student, describes one major effort, saying, “We partnered with the Utah chapter of the Lions Club, an organization dedicated to the prevention of blindness, in the Chulucanas leg of their vision fair program. The first day combined fun with some low-key education. Sunglasses were given as prizes for soccer competitions, and we gave out our “cool cat” stickers to children. The second day we helped with eye health screening services.”
Another HPM student, who is fluent in Spanish, gave radio and TV interviews, while others provided eye health promotion materials to key target audiences like mothers’ groups and teachers. Their biggest promotion was a “billboard” painting on the side of a local business that featured the “cool cat." The local people will see it every day, insuring that the eye health campaign remains in the public spotlight.
Going forward, the Marymount team is hoping to raise enough funds to return a small group in October to check on progress, keep things in the spotlight, and bolster ongoing efforts to continue the project. Dr. Eisenhardt points to the Peru Eye Health Project as a visible example of the University’s commitment to service and to the global community.
She elaborates, “The University is providing a meaningful service-learning opportunity. Beyond that, the interdisciplinary component of the Peru Eye Health Project provided our students with a real-world application of how people with different areas of expertise can work toward a common goal. The Health Care Management students focused on health-policy issues, while the Health Promotion Management students concentrated on behavioral change. Hopefully, these efforts will help the Chulucanas residents recognize and overcome a health issue that can be prevented.”
1. Marymount team members pose with Lions Club volunteers and Chulucanas residents at the vision fair.
2. Marymount graduate student Caroline Cronin conducts a focus group with Chulucanas taxi drivers on eye health promotion efforts.
3. Caroline Cronin (L) and Dr. Alyson Eisenhardt (R ) pose with boys in front of a wall mural promoting good eye health practices.