Graduated in Medicine in Brazil more than forty years ago (1981), Ricardo Casaroli has a long history of higher education that has led him to become a specialist in ophthalmology at the Clinical Hospital of Barcelona, a job that he combines with teaching at the University of Barcelona (UB). In March 2022, the rector of the UB, Joan Guàrdia, appointed him delegate of the presidency for biomedical research.
On the other hand, the link between Ricardo Casaroli and the Eyes of the world Foundation has existed practically since its creation in 2001, fulfilling the functions of secretary of the Medical Committee since 2006 and medical supervisor of the Eyes of Mozambique project between 2011 and 2017. Faithful, supportive and enthusiastic with the Foundation, Ricardo has traveled to the field to learn firsthand about the projects of Eyes of the world. In addition, he has also participated in training commissions and in local collaborations from Barcelona, making the results of the projects known. In this interview he tells us about his long relationship with Eyes of the world, among other issues.
When and how did you know about the Foundation? What caught your attention about ophthalmological cooperation for development?
In 2004 I already had very good references from the Foundation and its projects in the Sahara and in Mozambique, through a specialist friend who already collaborated with the surgical commissions. In December 2005, we carried out together a surgical-training commission at the Maputo General Hospital. The life and professional experience has had a very positive impact on me and since then I share the work philosophy –“We teach how to fish instead of giving the fish”– and the vision of cooperation of Eyes of the world.
What impression do you have of the eye health situation in the territories where the Foundation operates?
I believe that we have acted in a very transversal way in our projects – tackling avoidable blindness, providing training, strengthening the counterpart, involving local actors and betting on prevention – and in the territories where we maintain our presence. This work philosophy, which we have always tried to maintain, is now imitated by other younger foundations and organizations in Spain. I defend this way of visualizing cooperation and I think we have made a lot of progress, but, as always, much remains to be done for the equity of eye health in our territories of action.
You have collaborated with Eyes of the world for more than fifteen years, which of your contributions are you most proud of? What factors continue to motivate you to stay involved?
I believe that our work is also characterized by great teamwork and multidisciplinary work, and what we have achieved has been as a team. It is interesting to mention that when no one knew or imagined the communication and training potential of videoconferences – now so widely used and widespread during and after the pandemic – we already organized training videoconferences, between 2007 and 2011, with the National Ophthalmological Institute of La Paz (Bolivia) and later with Bamako (Mali). We had the best specialists here providing, in real time, knowledge to ophthalmologist colleagues from Bolivia and Mali; a shocking advance that required high technology at the time. We have been very innovative in online training. In this regard, the people from Eyes of the world with whom I have worked and work, the ideas and the philosophy of the cooperation approach have always motivated me and continue to motivate me.
What are the essential functions of the Medical Committee and what are the main difficulties you encounter?
Basically, I understand the Medical Committee as a nucleus for discussion of ideas and action strategies, problem solving and updating of the most innovative aspects of eye health and its possible applications. The Committee’s relationship with the local teams (those who are closest to the reality of eye health in the territories where it operates) is equally important and it is up to the Committee to promote it.
The most common difficulties are to establish the level of action, the strategy and the direction of the action, taking into account the cultural, health and geopolitical reality – the latter very changing – of each territory. The lack of involvement of the counterparts – the local health agents – are also situations that, unfortunately, are not possible to solve in an action such as the one we intend.
What do you think of the evolution and the work that Eyes of the world has done since its inception?
As already mentioned, we have come a long way and the numbers and statistics are impressive. A more holistic and transversal vision, with the participation of counterparts, and equity in eye health (opportunities for all) in the context of avoidable blindness, which the Eyes of the world Foundation supported and which have been proven to be successful over the years. Of course, with more or less difficulties. However, I also consider our level of demand and the quality of our actions to be high and we must continue working on all these aspects.
Now that Eyes of the world is working on a new Strategic Plan, what is your vision of the future of the Foundation in the coming years?
Like any initiative, I see very positive the concern of a rethinking in relation to the future of the Foundation and to be able to establish a Strategic Plan that responds to the reality of the socioeconomic and cultural moment in which we live. The results of this reflection seem to me, in general, very interesting. Promoting gender equality and the access of the most vulnerable communities to eye health, balancing actions, working towards greater sustainability within the Sustainable Development Goals are measures that must be included in the concept of international cooperation.
Seeking specific collaboration with other entities, institutions and foundations for joint actions and sharing experiences acquired are also measures that can improve and enhance the quality of our actions. All this, of course, is a very particular vision and an overview of the actions.
In the interconnected world we live in, what kind of strategic collaborations do you think Eyes of the world should build? And what role should the Foundation have in them?
In short, I think we could greatly strengthen the new communication and computer technologies to promote initiatives aimed at training health personnel, remote clinical diagnosis and telemedicine, simulation and virtual reality in surgical training and problem solving community in the field of eye health, community nutrition and hygiene. There are large platforms and initiatives in the academic context (universities and research institutes, etc.) and other private ones (specialized groups, hospitals and other foundations) that act and bet on these technologies that are cost-effective. We need to look for good partners in this field and, in addition, acquire the experience to be able to innovate and apply in our actions.
With what three words would you define Eyes of the world?
Solidarity, competency and equity.