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One of the most rewarding parts of my work is seeing first-hand the impact we have in the lives of not only the individuals who receive the gift of sight, but in whole communities as well.
Operation Eyesight has been bringing eye health care to some of the most underserved parts of India since 1963. During my recent travels to the subcontinent, the memory that stands out the most is meeting a group of 30 women in a vision centre (in Ron, Karnataka State) who were waiting for the bus to our local partner hospital to receive cataract surgery.
They shared what the gift of sight meant to them and their entire families. When people get their lives back, families and entire communities flourish.
It reminded me that our impact goes beyond restoring vision. Through dedicated local volunteers who screen their neighbours for eye health issues and through the presence of local vision centres, we are seeing more women and girls accessing eye health services and, as a result, more communities transform.
Over the past four years, we have been able to gather data that backs up what our teams in the field already know: that the presence of a vision centre in a community, supported by door-to-door outreach, has a measurable – and dramatic – impact on health outcomes for patients and families.
Published in the May 2022 edition of the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, our study looked at the prevalence of blindness and visual impairment in an urban slum of Pune, India, where we’ve been working in partnership with Community Eye Care Foundation, Pune. Over the course of the four-year study, the prevalence of blindness and visual impairment in the community was reduced by nearly 62 per cent.
For me, it’s confirmation that our focus on strengthening local health systems and empowering communities to look after their own eye health is not only effective, but also sustainable.
Vision centres are critical hubs for communities that do not have access to the most basic of eye health care, either due to economic or geographic factors. Staff provide eye exams, dispense prescription eyeglasses and refer patients to hospital if needed. We have established 160+ new vision centres across India and most vision centres become self-funding within six months of operation.
Our study looked at approximately 44,000 residents, who were surveyed at a four-year interval by local health workers in the community. Patients identified as having vision loss were referred to our local vision centre partner for more comprehensive examination and treatment if necessary.
Over the course of the study, 8,211 patients were examined at the vision centre. The prevalence of blindness decreased from 0.25 per cent to 0.1 per cent over four years and visual impairment decreased from 0.16 per cent to 0.05 per cent.
Operation Eyesight’s focus on involving the community at every stage of a project has ensured that our impact is not only measurable, but sustainable after we leave a community.
The experience of our teams, backed by data, is only making us more effective at what we do best: preventing blindness and restoring sight.