Our Global Director of Programmes, Kashinath Bhoosnurmath, joined Operation Eyesight in 2009. He brought with him a wealth of experience in the field of strategic program development and works with his team in India to develop our programs.
Kash, as we know him, agreed to answer some questions about his role, and he had a lot to say!
Q: You’ve worked with a variety of development organizations, including Aide et Action France and Save The Children UK. How does Operation Eyesight stand out as a development organization?
Kash: The organizations I’ve worked for in the past facilitated my growth as a development thinker and gave a proper shape to my value system. I respect them tremendously. Though there are overlaps in terms of their thematic focus areas, they are quite different when it comes to their approaches to programme development.
Operation Eyesight is no different from them. The differences are in terms of size and impact. We are a small organization with limited resources, yet we are very impactful in what we do. The approaches and models that we have developed result in actual elimination of avoidable blindness from the geographic area of coverage.
Blind people walk into hospitals in the morning and they walk out with their eyesight restored the following morning. One can see the change taking place in the lives of the needy with a great sense of satisfaction.
Q: As Global Director of Programmes, how do you see your role in contributing to the end of avoidable blindness?
Kash: Operation Eyesight has been intervening since 1963 and in the process has laid strong foundations for making avoidable blindness history. My job is to build on these foundations, develop models and approaches that are effective and feasible and scale them up in all the countries of our intervention.
I work closely with our country programme teams and support them with strategic advice and capacity building inputs. I represent Operation Eyesight with key stakeholders, such as national governments, and get their commitment to eliminate avoidable blindness. My constant endeavour is to make best use of our resources and ensure that returns on the investments made by our donors and supporters are the highest in the sector.
Q: You began working with Operation Eyesight in 2009 as Senior Director responsible for our India program. How have our Indian programs evolved since then?
Kash: I started learning the fundamental lesson related to blindness soon after I joined Operation Eyesight. What started as awe and admiration for the wonderful work that Operation Eyesight had been doing since 1963, turned into a paradox and concern as I went around the country and visited our partner hospitals. All the hospitals without any exception delivered very high quality services. I felt proud that our mantra was quality. These hospitals treated the poor patients without charging them – completely free of cost. I felt convinced that I was in the right organization.
But soon I also learned from our partners that there were still quite a number of people who were going blind in the hospitals’ service areas. We decided to crack this paradox and eventually developed, piloted and successfully scaled up a model to eliminate avoidable blindness on a sustainable basis. We have named this model our Hospital-Based Community Health Programme.
As a result of this model, we are no longer referred to as a donor agency in India. We are now a knowledge-driven agency and our technical expertise is sought by eye hospitals across the country. In fact, most of our partnerships in India are non-financial in the sense that our partner hospitals receive no funding support from Operation Eyesight. Our success in India can be easily gauged through the number of villages that we have declared as “avoidable blindness free.” There are currently 65 and the number will soon exceed 100.
Another evolution in India is related to the establishment of Vision Centres that provide primary eye care services at the community level. These Vision Centres become financially self-sustainable within six to 12 months of their establishment, treat primary eye disease at the door steps of the target communities and ensure that those with other eye related diseases are treated in the base hospitals to which they are linked. We now have 77 Vision Centres in India, and we are currently in the process of transferring our expertise into the countries in Africa where Operation Eyesight works.
Q: What is something that’s happening in one of Operation Eyesight’s partners that excites you?
Kash: Many of our partners are doing path-breaking, meaningful work. One example is our partner Siliguri Greater Lions Eye Hospital in India, which receives technical support from us. Thanks to the committed team of community based health workers and excellent support that the hospital management has been extending, we are going to declare 226 villages with a total population of over 100,000 people as avoidable blindness free.
I personally consider this a major milestone that we have successfully crossed by developing a model and demonstrating that it is possible to eliminate avoidable blindness on a sustainable basis. I have not known any other agency that has achieved a similar success. What makes me all the more happy is that there are another 35 projects that we are implementing currently and all of them are on course to eliminate avoidable blindness on a sustainable basis.
What we are doing through our Trachoma Elimination Programme in Kenya and Zambia is also exemplary. When I visit the field and interact with the target communities in these countries, I realize that what we are doing there is not just about eliminating blindness. Because of the provision of clean water, which is an integral part of our intervention, women and children do not have to walk long distances to fetch drinking water. Personal hygiene standards have improved significantly. Isn’t it fantastic that our blindness programme also means education for children and access to health care facilities for the communities?
Q: What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
Kash: I find joy in finding new solutions and approaches. The fact that we are the only organization having achieved this feat [of promoting villages as avoidable blindness on a sustainable basis] places us in the leadership position, so that certainly makes me feel proud. But that also makes me feel even more responsible. There is so much more to be done!
The need is still great, but we know that under Kash’s leadership – and with continuous support from our donors – we can eliminate avoidable blindness once and for all! For more information on our international programs and projects, visit our website.