I remember, some years ago, when I first learned about the intrepid nuns of Assumption Hospital’s Kanhirapuzha Eye Unit who took eye care into remote areas on motorcycles. It made me smile, imagining these dignified women weaving in and out of traffic (I now know that such a sight is not the least bit unusual in India). But I knew they were on to something.
Flash forward to 2011, and the concept of hospital-based community eye care employed by these women is now a major feature of Operation Eyesight’s approach in India, and is being applied in Africa as well. We now know that many people with eye problems never get the treatment they need, even if an eye clinic is not too far away.
For years Operation Eyesight has been helping our hospital partners in India to run efficient and sustainable operations in order to eliminate avoidable blindness in the districts served. But in many cases, these hospitals were only reaching 35 percent of the local population.
Before, the hospital would send medical teams to outlying districts three or four times a year – it wasn’t enough, and it was expensive. A steadier presence was required to get to know people and earn their trust.
A new approach of working more closely with the community, and sending workers deeper into the community, is really paying off. Now, hospitals hire and coordinate community workers (many of them recruited from the very villages they serve) who move from place to place offering health education and basic diagnosis. They travel on bicycles or motorbikes, along roads and pathways that only a 4×4 truck could navigate.
But a $40,000 4×4 vehicle isn’t always necessary; if there’s no need to bring equipment or transport patients, sometimes a $1,500 motorbike or any ordinary bicycle will do. Two-wheeled transport is easy to maintain, and fuel for motorbikes costs peanuts. In this way, it is possible to reach just about everyone in the district served by the hospital, and problems with blindness and low vision are dropping exponentially.
Would you like to help? This year, for the first time, we’re featuring motorbikes and bicycles in our Gift Guide. Have a look – it’s the kind of gift that everyone can understand, and it helps these hospitals reach everyone possible.