When the University of Kentucky Global Ophthalmology (UK GO) program launched in 2017, its mission was to promote equitable and sustainable access to eye care through education, research, outreach, and partnerships. 

As part of this goal, the program runs outreach clinics in eastern Kentucky and Lexington, Ky., to bring important health care services to underserved populations.

UK GO eye clinics offer full eye exams, ancillary exams when possible, and free high-quality eyeglasses to all patients thanks to help from the UK College of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology’s optical shop. The clinic also offers follow-up appointments if warranted.

“Over the years, with the indispensable collaboration and support from our department's chair, faculty, and staff, and contributions from generous donors, we have helped many hundreds of people in these clinics,” said Ana Bastos de Carvalho, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology. “And we've diagnosed hundreds of patients with refractive errors and sight-threatening diseases.”

Dr. Bastos de Carvalho said residents and medical students are consistently involved with the clinics and that many return after their first experience. In fact, they normally make up about half of the volunteers. UK also offers a residency track that provides structured opportunities to develop global health knowledge and experiences, locally and internationally.

“UK GO has been a deeply fulfilling experience,” said Kevin Wang, MD, a second-year ophthalmology resident at UK. “It has helped me learn about the unique challenges of delivering health care in under-resourced settings and how to creatively meet those challenges, as well as the broader social and cultural issues that make health care in these areas challenging. 

“We've built eye exam stations in the middle of public parks, partnered with rural eye clinics to deliver care in Appalachia, and are constantly looking for new ways to meet unmet needs in Kentucky and globally,” Dr. Wang continued. “I feel very fortunate to be a part of a department that cares so much about alleviating health inequities in ophthalmology and puts actions to their words.”

Clinics are held according to necessity and by request. They typically occur in Lexington and eastern Kentucky communities such as London, Harlan, and Hazard. 

The department’s newest UK GO project hosts clinics at Fayette County public elementary schools during school hours. Those are held monthly, enabling doctors to examine any child in need at school, “easing the burden on caretakers who don’t have to take a day off for the child’s eye appointment,” Dr. Bastos de Carvalho said.