Operation Eyesight was recently approached by blogger Grant Wish to do a Q&A for CauseArtist. We turned to our expert in the field, Kashinath Bhoosnurmath, Senior Director of International Programs, for the answers. The discussion captures Operation Eyesight’s approach to sustainable development and demonstrates how we are finding solutions to eye health issues. You can read highlights from the Q&A below or view the full discussion here.
Q. Since the 1960s, Operation Eyesight has been evolving its approach to eye care. Can you tell us what the main difference in approach is when tackling the problem from a charity perspective and now from a development perspective?
A. In the early 1960s, the emphasis of all eyesight-related international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) was on the large backlog of cataract cases in India and other developing nations. We began by funding screening camps, cataract surgeries and training aimed at reducing the backlog. Over time, we transitioned from a charity or aid model to a development model.
Rather than simply finding Band-Aid® solutions to temporarily alleviate health issues, we invest in sustainable treatment, prevention and community development activities to address specific eye health problems, as well as the root causes of blindness. Not only do we restore eyesight, but we work to prevent people from going blind in the first place – and we do this by working collaboratively with our local partners.
Q. Most of the organization’s work is occurring in India and Africa. Have you seen that blindness is occurring in the same fashion in both regions, or are the causes and cases you see based on geographical location?
A. The common causes of avoidable blindness, such as cataract, refractive error, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, occur in all the countries in which we work: India, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. However, we are also working to eliminate trachoma, a blinding eye disease, in Kenya and Zambia. Trachoma is no longer a problem in India and Ghana.
If you look at the root causes of avoidable blindness – poverty, illiteracy, lack of eye health knowledge and inadequate eye care facilities – there isn’t much difference between India and countries in Africa. The major difference that we see between the two is that in Africa it is the public health systems that deliver the majority of the eye care services, whereas in India the eye health sector is dominated by INGOs embedded in an overall supportive public health policy framework.
Q. What does development mean to Operation Eyesight? How does the organization’s model promote a sustainable approach to ending avoidable blindness?
A. To us, development means empowering our target communities and our local hospital partners so that ownership of the problem of avoidable blindness and the solutions to the problem lie with them. It is they who eliminate avoidable blindness on a sustainable basis with Operation Eyesight’s support for capacity-building and infrastructure development. We support local solutions by local people. We work collaboratively with each of our partners to set objectives and develop a practical plan that will ultimately achieve quality, sustainable eye care services.
On the other hand, the goal of eliminating avoidable blindness isn’t going to happen until every country has a health care system that includes eye care – a system they can sustain without foreign support. And that is exactly what our organization is working toward through our policy research and advocacy efforts.
Our vision is, “For all the world to see.” We recognize that isn’t going to happen overnight, but through the implementation of our quality, sustainable community development model, we are demonstrating that we have solutions to eye health problems. We have the answers. The elimination of avoidable blindness is possible!