Developed by our Indian staff, Operation Eyesight’s model of hospital-based community eye care stresses the importance of recruiting and training local individuals as community workers. The goal of these workers is to promote health in their communities, which they do through a process of eye health screenings, referrals, and follow-up visits.
This model has been hugely successful and was recently endorsed by Vision 2020 India, which is encouraging their partners to adopt it. But the idea of going out into the community to treat eye problems is not new.
In 1971, Operation Eyesight helped the Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Aligarh, India, develop pediatric eye care facilities. However, many people in the area were not taking care of their vision or seeking medical attention when needed. While there are many reasons for what we call poor eye health-seeking behavior, it was and is still a problem in developing nations, including India and many parts of Africa.
On their own initiative, the staff at the hospital developed a program to treat people with eye problems who were not coming to their hospital. They submitted a request for funding to Art Jenkyns, who was then the president of Operation Eyesight. They called it the “Jenkyns Village Program” because Art had challenged them, several years before, to consider selecting an area where eye-care was non-existent and establishing a weekly clinic.
The Jenkyns Village Program went one step further, selecting an area of 100 villages, many times the area that Art had challenged them to consider. The hospital staff hired and trained two local men, who travelled around the area by bike, numbering houses and searching for people with eye problems. After compiling this information, the hospital staff established a weekly eye clinic (which was soon increased to five days each week due to demand). More complicated cases were transported to the facilities at Aligarh.
It took four years to complete the program, but by the time it was done the number of patients had dropped to the point where a team could visit the area monthly and bring those in need of surgery back to Aligarh. By this time, local villagers had seen and heard the benefit of eye care, and would now journey to the hospital on their own. A follow-up Jenkyns Village Program addressed blinding malnutrition in infants and included a women’s education and feeding program.
We believe that going out into the community to treat eye problems is a key part of our mission to eliminate avoidable blindness. Now, our community workers also provide information on issues like malnutrition, polio, malaria and prenatal and postnatal issues. Hospital-based community eye care engages communities, increases economic opportunity, and enhances the sustainability of services because communities take ownership.
Because Vision 2020 India is encouraging its partners to adopt Operation Eyesight’s model, we hope it will spread to hospitals that are not in direct financial partnership with us. Currently, we’re involved in training staff at six hospitals in India, with another 16 on a waiting list.