Our blog post of February 24 featured Daniel Franklin, Operation Eyesight’s Program Manager for Community Eye Health in India, describing how a group of 15 women was sought to facilitate eye health in remote, rural areas of Tamil Nadu state. The hospital-based community eye health program seeks to reach people suffering from visual impairment who do not get the help they need, even when it is close at hand. Daniel says the recruitment and training phase of the project went well, but the community health workers had yet to prove themselves. Here’s what happened next:
Despite the initial challenges, the workers displayed remarkable courage and determination. What made them persevere, perhaps, was the desire to prove themselves up to the challenge and to make a change within their communities.
The door-to-door surveys were completed on schedule, resulting in almost 332,500 people screened for vision problems throughout the target district. Of these, over 1,800 were identified as having unilateral cataract, over 6,350 with bilateral cataract and over 1,400 persons completely blind.
Today, these women travel many kilometres every week organizing eye screening programs, conducting health promotion events, counselling patients for surgery and following up with patients who have undergone surgery. They also network with staff from other NGOs and government departments in the area to promote immunisation, life skills and mother/child health care.
I find these women workers to be effective in counselling people who require treatment at the hospital. They communicate knowledgably about a range of issues from family planning to child health, and from nutrition to sanitation. Much of this they learned during the training phase, but they also passed on useful lessons and practices from their own lives and helped their immediate family members to follow suit. All of this has contributed to their effectiveness in helping the people they work to adopt good eye health seeking behaviour.
This initial hospital-based community eye care program is now in its third year, and the success of the women workers tests the traditional notion that only men should go out and work. But more importantly, these women have made a significant difference in the lives of thousands of people in the target communities. Thanks to them, over 3,100 people with serious eye problems have received eye surgery and almost 1,520 people with refractive error have received eye glasses.
The benefits of the program are many. The community workers receive recognition from the people they serve, which drives them to perform better. These women are welcomed everywhere, such as local festivals, and people come to their houses for advice. More importantly, they are respected by their immediate family members – especially by their husbands.
The success of the community health workers has encouraged Operation Eyesight to expand the program and recruit women for our other project locations. Today we have over 100 female community health workers for rural areas, from West Bengal to Rajasthan and from Himachal Pradesh to Kerala. We appreciate the role they play in our quest to eliminate avoidable blindness.
Learn more about these community health workers. Read about the challenges of bringing eye care to remote areas around Kothamangalam in southern India.