Community health worker strives to help every patient (Part 1 of 2)
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Dr. Harish Kumar, our programme manager in India, shared this inspiring story with us. Thank you, Harish!

At Operation Eyesight, we value the big-picture perspective, but we also like to keep one foot planted firmly at the ground level. So while we’re busy organizing, planning, training and monitoring, we recognize that it’s the field staff – the local project managers and community health workers (CHWs) – who keep the wheels turning for each of our Hospital-Based Community Eye Health Programs across India.

The proficiency and dedication of the field staff can make or break a program, which is why we personally oversee the hiring and training process at each partner hospital. During a recent visit to Udaygiri Lions Eye Hospital, our partner in the state of Maharashtra, I met a young woman who blew away all my preconceptions of how a CHW could perform.

Sarashwati uses a torch light to examine a man’s eyes.
Sarashwati uses a torch light to examine a man’s eyes.

Sarashwati was recruited a few years ago from her home village inside our community eye health project area. She now works in and around her local community, conducting door-to-door surveys, screening residents for vision problems, and referring patients for prescription eyeglasses or surgery. She also conducts education sessions to teach families about eye and general health care.

What’s most impressive is that she’s mastered all of these tasks while coping with a physical disability: she had polio as a child, leaving her with weakened legs that still restrict her movements.

For many years, she ignored what others said about her limp, trying as best she could to be like all the other kids. But over time, the constant comments began to weigh heavy on her. She eventually moved to a school for disabled children, not because she felt incapable but because of peer pressure from her friends and family.

Looking back on it now, she says she never really felt disabled; every time she was tempted to feel sorry for herself, she’d look around at all those who had it worse, and the feeling would vanish. It’s this determination and compassion that has led Sarashwati to become the hospital’s best performing CHW.

The hospital’s goal is to completely eliminate avoidable blindness in each target community, and when that happens, a celebration event is held in the village to declare it avoidable blindness-free. When Sarashwati first began as a CHW, she was determined to bring sight-saving surgery to every single patient in need.

Unfortunately, there are usually a few patients who refuse to go for treatment. Often these patients are elderly, averse to travelling, skeptical of modern medicine or don’t see the need for treatment – even when it’s provided for free!

In a village called Kawalwadi, after the hospital’s intervention – door-to-door surveys, counselling, education, screening programs and transport to the hospital – was complete, there were still three resistant patients in need of care. After initially failing to convince them to go for cataract surgery, Sarashwati made it her personal mission to ensure all three patients received treatment.

She would not rest until every patient had been helped and the village was officially declared avoidable blindness-free!

Would Sarashwati succeed in her mission? Tune back next week to find out!