Building on the strengths of local, government health workers

A female health worker conducts a vision test with a female community member.
Written by Colin Zak, published on December 1, 2022 Donate Today

For 38-year-old Shankuntala, healthy eyes are just one piece of a much larger puzzle when it comes to a person’s health and wellness.  

In addition to being a full-time mom, Shakuntala also works as an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) with the Government of India, providing healthcare and referrals for others in her community of Gadhara Village.  

For the past eight years, she has provided advice to women regarding their pregnancies, referring several women each month to local health facilities. She has also supported home-based newborn care and vaccinations for children in her community.  

Thanks to primary eye care training offered by Operation Eyesight in August 2022, Shakuntala can also identify common eye conditions and provide referral for those experiencing eye health issues. 

Female health worker wearing a purple sari stands beside a male patient wearing a white shirt, as she conducts a vision test.
Thanks to the primary eye care training she received, Shakuntala is now able to identify common eye conditions and provide referral for patients who need further care, along with providing health advice on a range of other issues.

“I got to learn a lot about eye health care,” she explains. “The training program has built my skills in measuring the vision of a person. Now I screen the eyesight of my community members with these simple techniques and refer them to Health and Wellness Centres.” 

Shankuntala performs basic vision tests and identifies symptoms of conditions like cataracts, refractive error and pterygium – a growth on the eye’s conjunctiva. Armed with the knowledge and skills she gained both during her ASHA training and additional eye care training, she is able to address many of the determinants of health, including some of the root causes of avoidable blindness such as vitamin A deficiency and poor hygiene.   

One of the key recommendations of the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) 2019 World Report on Vision is to implement Integrated People-centered Eye Care (IPEC), as it will play a critical role in addressing the global eye health crisis. ‘Integrated’ eye care is care that is part of the local health system. This often requires partnership with local hospitals and often means utilizing local health resources, personnel and infrastructure. ‘People-centred’ means focusing on the needs, preferences and values of individuals and communities. 

IPEC has been a core component of Operation Eyesight’s approach for decades, because we focus on the unique needs of individuals and communities, as well as partner with local governments and health programs. In India, this includes opening local vision centres or vision points and recruiting local health workers who are predominantly women to conduct door-to-door screenings.  

“Trainings give health care staff in a community the skills and knowledge they need to make eye health care a standard part of the care they provide. Ultimately, this helps make eye care both accessible and sustainable for a community long-term,” explains Dr. Troy Cunningham, our Country Director for India. “Training local health workers like Shakuntala is a key part of that.” 

Operation Eyesight has been working closely with the state governments in both Arunachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to establish vision care facilities within already-existing government health centres, such as Health and Wellness Centres. Additionally, we are providing training for ASHAs and other healthcare providers. This has helped make eye health care services available to the most underserved populations. 

“Our approach helps ensure that we leave no one behind, especially girls and women, which translates into empowered communities that can care for their own health,” Troy adds. “This work is so exciting because it aligns with the transformative impact on India’s health system.” 

For Shakuntala, it has enabled her to cater services to the unique needs of the patients and families she serves in her own community.  

To learn more about our partnership with the Government of India, read this success story. 

To donate to Operation Eyesight India and help provide training for more health workers like Shakuntala, click here.   

With files from Subhadip Bhattacharya, Head, Resource Mobilization.