The presence of a vision centre in one Indian community has played a key role in the reduction of blindness and visual impairment for local patients and families, according to a new study published in the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology.
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.
It’s confirmation that Operation Eyesight’s focus on strengthening local health systems and empowering communities to look after their own eye health is not only effective, but also sustainable.
“We have known for some time that the presence of vision centres in a community, supported by door-to-door outreach, has a measurable impact on health outcomes for patients and families,” explains Kashinath Bhoosnurmath, our President & CEO and co-author of the study.
“Data like this only helps us become more effective in achieving our mission of preventing blindness and restoring sight.”
The study looked at approximately 44,000 people living in an urban slum area in Pune, Maharashtra, India, who were surveyed at a four-year interval by local health workers in the community. Patients identified as having vision loss were referred to Operation Eyesight’s local vision centre partner for more comprehensive examination and treatment if necessary.
Vision centres also have referral pathways in place for patients who require referral to hospital for surgery or additional treatment.
Over the course of the four-year study, led by Community for Eye Care Foundation, Pune and our team in in India, 8,211 patients were examined at the local vision centre. During this time, the prevalence of blindness due to conditions such as cataracts 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.
Building a lasting presence in the community
Vision centres are permanent facilities, established in strategic locations within a project area and staffed by trained eye health personnel. In addition to linking the community with the hospital, vision centres also provide eye exams, dispense prescription eyeglasses and refer patients for specialized treatment if needed. Vision centres are critical hubs for communities that do not have access to the most basic of eye healthcare, either due to economic or geographic factors.
“By providing access to prescription eyeglasses, eye health screening and referral to hospital, the decrease in rates of visual impairment and blindness in this community can be attributed to the presence of the local vision centre,” explains Bhoosnurmath.
Operation Eyesight’s focus on involving the community at every stage of a project has ensured the sustainability of our vision centres. This includes ensuring that demand is in place for the vision centre’s services and that a flow of revenue will fund the provision of services long-term.
Operation Eyesight has established 160+ new vision centres across India. Most vision centres become self-funding within six months of operation.
Recruiting eye health champions
“The key to the success of vision centres is our ability to recruit local community health workers who provide door-to-door eye health screening,” says Soumya Moosa, one of our Program Managers in India and co-author of the study.
Moosa says this type of grassroots outreach in the community is particularly beneficial to health outcomes for women.
“The study found that women continue to have a higher prevalence of blindness and are less likely to seek care in low-income communities like the one surveyed. This is why the counselling by local female health workers is so pivotal to the project’s success.”
To learn more about our work in India, visit operationeyesightindia.org.