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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2642

The newly elected Lions International President is determined to stop preventable blindness everywhere

By Walter Jayawardhana

Chicago, 08 July, ( The newly elected International President of the Lions Club, Mahendra Amarasuriya said in Chicago that he was prepared to eradicate preventable eye diseases from the Indian subcontinent, his native Sri Lanka and Africa, as a priority project through an internally changed Lions organization that would be made “a dynamic vibrant 21st century organization.”Mahendra Amarasuriya said that Lions have helped 3 million catract surgeries in India at 280 units all over the country. He called the Indian program one of the most successful and said a surgery cost only 15 US Dollars, there.Mahendra Amarasuriya said that Lions have helped 3 million catract surgeries in India at 280 units all over the country. He called the Indian program one of the most successful and said a surgery cost only 15 US Dollars, there.

“At the end of my term as the International President, I am determined to raise 200 million US dollars for these projects,” to prevent blindness and bring light to thousands said Amarasuriya in an interview with this correspondent.

The Colombo’s Commercial Bank and Pelawatte and Sevanagala Plantations Chairman who had been the first Vice President of the international service club for the last one year was formally elected to the prestigious position of the President July 6 during the 90th Annual sessions of the Lions at the McCormick Convention Center in Chicago, Illinois. This city is on the edge of the great Lake Michigan where cold winds cause havoc but had unusually fair weather during the day of the sessions.

Representatives from all world capitals of 203 nations converged on Chicago for the election and discussed about other business matters of the club. The 1.3 million members strong service club is the world’s largest such organization and is enjoying a consultative status with the United Nations. There are 45,000 club branches all over the world.

Speaking of his native Sri Lanka Amarasuriya, scion of a leading philanthropist for the Buddhist education in Sri Lanka said, there are back logs of 3000 patients who have got to be operated on for cataract and part of the money would go for that. As the President, Amarasuriya would direct the organization’s leading project, ‘The Sight First program’ that aims to rid the world of preventable and reversible blindness.

Amarasuriya said using his elevation to the international presidency of the Lions he is planning to promote Sri Lanka as a tourist attraction. “When I visit countries I will be usually meeting heads of state and I will make those opportunities to promote Sri Lanka,” the newly elected President said.

He would attempt to put up the map of Sri Lanka in the world of the Lions since the Sri Lankan national anthem is sung when he presides over Lions meetings anywhere in the world. At many of these meetings he is also planning to show tourist promotional videos of Sri Lanka.

Amarasuriya said he had discussed these promotional matters with his fellow Southerner, another Mahendra -namely President Mahinda Rajapaksa. (Mahendra is the Sanskrit form of the Pali word Mahinda. The Sinhala form is Mihindu)

Describing more about his eye sight related projects Amarasuriya said the funds are being raised for Lions Club International Fund (LCIF) and already 103 million US dollars have been raised out of his target of 200 million.

He said the Lions are involved in eradication cataract by surgery, river blindness in Africa by distribution of anti-biotic and surgery for trachoma, a contagious bacterial eye disease in which scar tissue forms inside the eyelid, eventually causing it to curve inward and the eyelashes to scrape the eye, often leading to infection . Cataract is more common eye disease in which the lens becomes covered in an opaque film that affects sight, eventually causing total blindness.

Amarasuriya said 143 million dollars, raised in Japan, Korea, USA and Europe have been invested between 1995-2007 in 800 projects by the Lions in these “Sight First” projects, in 99 countries.

He said the Jimmy Carter Foundation is helping Lions with 68 million US Dollars to eradicate River Blindness (on•cho•cer•ci•a•sis) [òngko sur k ?ssiss], a disease caused by parasitic worms and transmitted by black flies, causing skin nodules, lesions, and blindness. He said Lions distribute two doses of the drug called Mectizan for each patient for the complete cure of the disease.

Lions are supplying artificial lenses to be fixed on the eyes and maintain surgeries in Sri Lanka. He said right now they are helping to start Operating Room facilities at Jaffna and Navalapitiya hospitals. He said the Lions are maintaining operating room facilities at Karapitiya and helping to maintain 25 patient wards there. Lions are running independent hospitals from government at Panadura with two operating rooms and a ward of 15 beds.

“We have finished 1300 cases there while we have finished 500 surgeries for cataract at the other independent from the government unit we run at Hendala. Panadura is being improved at the cost of US $ 122,000 and Hendala is upgraded at US $ 120,000,” Amarasuriya further stated. He said those who could afford to pay these centers are charged money. About 30 % of the patients pay some money while 70 % receive free treatment.

As an incentive for the paying patients more comfortable wards like paying wards are given. Money is spent to pay the ophthalmologists, who are expensive to be hired, he said.

Amarasuriya said the eye unit attached to the Hambantota government hospital had to be closed for want of an ophthalmologist and the Batticaloa unit is also not functioning for unstable conditions there. But he said an Ampara unit is being planned. He said US $ 70,000 will be spent to improve an eye unit at Homagama hospital.

The new president of Lions said that Lions have helped 3 million catract surgeries in India at 280 units all over the country. He called the Indian program one of the most successful and said a surgery cost only 15 US Dollars, there.

Mahendra Amarasuriya said the Lion’s share of the Lions International Boxing Day Tsunami relief fund of seven million US Dollars out of the 15 million pledged was received by Sri Lanka, while Thailand, Indonesia and South India received the balance.

He said initially it was estimated that 3000 houses could be built for Tsunami relief. But he said since the estimate building cost had gone up and now only 1450 houses could be built according to government specifications with running water and electricity after purchasing or obtaining land. He said 350 houses of that amount have been so far completed and 600 more will be finished by the coming December. The other 500 houses will be finished next year. Amarasuriya said with the houses the Lions are building child care centers and community centers where such things as medical clinics could be run.

“Forty thousand Sri Lankans died and 120,000 homes were destroyed during the 2004 tsunami. Lions went right to work, providing food and shelter. Helped by donations from Lions worldwide, Lions in Sri Lanka also partnered with LCIF to build 1,459 homes and provide job training,” Amarasuriya, hailing originally from one of the worst hit towns, Galle in Sri Lanka said. He said 1450 houses are coming up at places like Hambantota, Hikkaduwa, Bandar agama, Ampara, Trincomalee and Batticaloa.

He said the Sight Fist projects are also implemented in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan .

He said the Lions are engaged in Disabled vocational training, funding schools and supplying special equipment like Lasers for surgery in those countries.

Amarasuriya said apart from these major projects the Lions are currently involved in developing pre-schools, granting scholarships for medical and engineering students in need of financial assistance using funds from Scandinavian and UK in Sri Lanka.

A science graduate from the University of Ceylon and an expert in management Amarasuriya is determined to challenge the age old international body into change and has selected “challenge to change as his theme for the next year. He said, “Without this internal change, we will no longer be relevant to the 21st century. We have to be flexible so that people are not bogged down by bureaucratic procedures, by protocol, and by pomp and pageantry. Young people appear to be more interested in hands-on projects and not spending their time at meetings. That is why I challenge the Lions to change internally so that we will establish a different image – a dynamic vibrant 21st century organization.”

- Asian Tribune -

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