A sense of déjà vu was in the air as I travelled on bumpy roads in the dry heat of the Indian summer. The landscape was desolate and arid, with the temperature reaching 40 C in the shade. However, the anticipation of visiting one of our first non-financial technical partners made the heat and bad road conditions almost unnoticeable.
Our partner hospital, Udaygiri Lions Eye Hospital (ULEH), is located in a small town called Udgir in the Marathwada region, one of the poorest regions in India. We entered into a partnership with ULEH in 2012 to implement a Hospital-Based Community Eye Health Project in an area spread across three districts: Latur, Nanded and Parbhani.
Over the past 18 months, Operation Eyesight has provided technical support to the hospital to make needed renovations and improve the capacity of its staff. All of this has led to the delivery of quality eye care services.
One of the challenges, however, was that the hospital served such a far flung area. Patients requiring even a simple eye exam had to wait for the hospital’s medical team to conduct an eye screening program near their village. And even the few people who could afford it had to travel vast distances to access eye care services.
Thankfully, we received a grant from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Development (DFATD) that allowed us to establish two vision centres in the Nanded and Parbhani districts. This is what brought me back; ULEH had invited me to inaugurate the vision centres, the only eye care service centres in the area.
The inauguration functions were quite different from the many that I have attended in the past. Surprisingly, the audience comprised mostly of elderly men and women. More strikingly, they had not come to listen to my inauguration speech, but to get their eyes examined!
Five hundred people showed up for the first vision centre launch, and 300 of them registered at the vision centre and had their eyes examined. They had come not only from the villages where these two vision centres are located, but from the surrounding villages as well.
Operation Eyesight provided support for the equipment and renovation of these vision centres, which were donated by the local communities. In fact, the building for the centre in Nanded was donated by a person who had previously underwent cataract surgery at ULEH.
The operating costs for the vision centres are covered by ULEH’s own resources. It is expected that each centre will examine 375 people per month, dispense close to 100 pairs of eyeglasses and refer over 100 patients to the base hospital in Udgir.
I returned home from my journey with a sense of satisfaction about the progress we are making in our fight to eliminate avoidable blindness. I am proud of the way our India team has been delivering and I am grateful for our donors and partner hospitals.
Operation Eyesight’s ability to reach out to the unreached – to provide them with high quality eye care services and build their capacity to take care of their eye health on their own – makes me confident that we truly can eliminate avoidable blindness!
Visit our Programs & Projects page to learn more about our work in India.