The story of Allen Pineda Lindo mirrors those of many disadvantaged children in the Philippines who are visually-impaired. Born to a poor family in the provincial capital of Angeles, Pampanga just 30 miles outside of Metropolitan Manila Allen’s vision challenges brought about difficulties in school, self-esteem problems, and often required special assistance. In a country where there are very few provisions for special education the prospects for children with visual impairment are quite dismal.
“I was embarrassed that I had to stand so close to the blackboard which annoyed all the other kids,” Allen explained. “But worst, the teachers themselves were not very encouraging.”
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that most of these visually-impaired children are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many are born prematurely in part due to the deficient nature of prenatal care available to the poor. The cost of supporting a disabled child for life often makes it impossible for their families to lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty.
But Allen Pineda Lindo was one of the lucky ones. His adoptive, American father brought him to the United States for eye treatments. He was able to go to school in California. And eventually, his artistic inclinations brought rise to the establishment of one of the most phenomenal groups in the American music scene—the Black Eyed Peas—and with it the reinvention of Allen Pineda Lindo into Apl.de.ap.
The Campaign for Filipino Children’s Apl of My Eye Project is a two-year initiative–2014 to 2016–that addresses a critical medical concern in the Philippines: the pediatric, eye affliction called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). Combining the expertise
and passion of Apl.de.ap Foundation International and our principal program partner Dr. Thomas Lee, Director of the Vision Center of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the Campaign will provide a sustainable approach to the diagnosis and treatment of this specialized medical condition. .
The goal of the Project is to create the internal capacity in the Philippines to diagnose and treat the affliction retinopathy of prematurity through the professional development of doctors and other medical practitioners and the provision of needed medical equipment.
In partnership with the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology the Campaign for Filipino Children intends to enter into partnerships with four pilot hospitals in the Philippines. These may include but not limited to: a central training hospital in the capital of Metropolitan Manila; a hospital in the province of Tarlac and/or Pampanga in the Luzon region; a hospital in the province of Cebu and/or Iloilo in the Visayas region; and one in the province of Davao in Mindanao. Dr. Thomas Lee of the Vision Center of LA Children’s Hospital and his team will travel to the Philippines to train local eye specialists and ophthalmologists and the medical staff from these participating hospitals. The U.S. contingent will bring retcams to assist in diagnosis.
The project can potentially train at least 6 to 10 medical practitioners from each of the 4 hospitals—total of 24 to 40–and prevent blindness for approximately 4,380 premature babies a year. In the future, doctors from these pilot hospitals can train their counterparts in other hospitals especially those in other rural and hard-to-reach provincial hospitals and share the original equipment to sustain diagnosis and treatment on their own.
In addition Apl.de.ap Foundation International will work closely with the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology to lobby the Philippine Department of Health to include screenings for retinopathy of prematurity as one of its government-subsidized procedures. The goal is to create the internal capacity in the Philippines to diagnose retinopathy of prematurity and perform needed surgeries within 48 hours of diagnosis for all children.
Every year, at least ten percent of all births in the Philippines involving premature babies are caused in part by the relative deficient nature of prenatal care available to the poor. At least thirty percent of these premature babies develop retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) a disease that causes abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina from excessive oxygenation. If the affliction is not treated within 48 hours of diagnosis these premature babies become permanently blind.
For example, at a government maternal and newborn tertiary hospital in the heart of Metropolitan Manila, more than 1,000 premature babies develop retinopathy of prematurity and become blind every year. Multiply this by the number of hospitals in the country and the relatively high birth rate in the Philippines and the case becomes alarming.
Many hospitals in the Philippines are not as thoroughly familiar with retinopathy of prematurity. Many local ophthalmologists and other medical practitioners may not have the proper training and hospitals may not have the appropriate equipment to recognize, diagnose and treat the affliction in a timely manner to prevent blindness. There is a disproportionate number of newborns from poor families who develop retinopathy from prematurity. The Campaign for Filipino Children recognizes that addressing this concern head-on is not only a health issue but an economic one.
The Campaign for Filipino Children is the health initiative of the Apl.de.ap Foundation International dedicated to addressing health and health-related concerns of children in the Philippines and around the world. Apl of My Eye is the first project under the umbrella of the Campaign. Apl.de.ap himself suffers from an eye ailment and is considered legally blind. This first health project is in line with the Foundation’s education priority because of its emphasis on training doctors and creating local capacity in the medical community in the Philippines.