Grassroots Innovators 

Grassroots Innovators

By : Min Chen


Cataracts are the leading cause of global blindness. Of the over 100 million people who experience cataract-related vision impairment and blindness, 90% reside in developing countries. Often, sufferers are unable to escape the cyclical marginalization brought on by their inability to work and provide educational opportunities for the next generation. 


Founded in 2010 by the late Al Ueltschi and his son, James Ueltschi, HelpMeSee is an international non-profit organization working to eliminate the backlog in cataract surgery. Before HelpMeSee, Al founded FlightSafety International (FSI)–the world’s leading aviation training company under Berkshire Hathaway–and co-founded Orbis International, a non-profit ‘Flying Eye Hospital’ that connects volunteer ophthalmologists with sufferers of avoidable blindness in developing countries.


FSI’s simulation-based training program inspired the development of a VR eye surgery simulator to train surgeons to perform Manual Small-Incision Cataract Surgery (MSICS), which is a low-risk procedure with an average cost of US$150. 


HelpMeSee launched their six-day Sclerocorneal Tunnel Construction Course (STCC) in March 2019, and is training surgical residents and practicing surgeons from top teaching hospitals in India and China to perform MSICS. 


Since its founding, HelpMeSee has facilitated more than 250,000 sight-restoring operations throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean–a number that’s set to take off through the STCC program. 


In addition to the organization’s tech-driven approach, what makes HelpMeSee exceptional is its efforts to create a holistic solution, which includes empowering local partners to carry out post-operation support and standardizing supply chain and evaluation practices among medical professionals. 


HelpMeSee’s mission is to train 30,000 surgeons to reach millions of patients, putting an end to this preventable public health crisis. –MC


Case Study: Dr. Haddy Sohna 


Dr. Haddy Sohna (pictured on the right) is a second-generation nurse in The Gambia. Sohna was trained by a HelpMeSee medical officer as part of her studies in Surgical Ophthalmic Nursing, and has since performed more than 500 cataract surgeries. She is now one of the country’s leading cataract surgeons. 

Iman Hussein & Dr Haddy Sohna

Iman Hussein & Dr Haddy Sohna

Sohna says that listening to her patients’ stories is the most fulfilling aspect of her work. She is pictured with Iman Hussein, one of The Gambia’s leading educators, who, at 75-years-old, was still managing a school that he started in the city’s capital of Banjul–until he started losing his sight. His surgery was a success and he has since returned to teaching, which he considers to be his life’s purpose. 

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