Operation Eyesight is a Calgary-based international development organization dedicated to eliminating avoidable blindness in Africa and Asia. In developing countries, blindness can be a death sentence. Without sight, people are robbed of their ability to provide for themselves and their families.
Sadly, 80 percent of blindness is avoidable, and for millions of people in developing countries, blindness is a reality due to poverty, lack of eye health awareness and education, and lack of access to eye health services. Conditions like cataract and the need for eyeglasses affect 253 million people worldwide, and 89 percent of those people live in low and middle-income countries.
Our philosophy is the ‘best for the poorest’, and our partners provide everyone with the same level of quality care, regardless of age, gender, race, caste, religion or ability to pay. We help people like Thomas in Kenya. Thomas’ worsening vision forced him to give up his thriving tailoring business and was threatening his livelihood. But thanks to support from generous Canadians, he says he is now a man full of hope. Read his story here.
Our goal is to eliminate avoidable blindness, and to do that we’ve embedded eight of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals in our operational work:
When people can see, they can work and go to school. By preventing blindness and restoring sight, we break the cycle of poverty by helping entire families escape impoverishment.We believe in providing people in high-need communities with the same eye care we receive here in Canada. Our Hospital-Based Community Eye Health Program (HBCEHP) incorporates eye health care into the country’s primary health care system. This helps ensure that communities have access to eye care services. We believe in empowering whole communities to take responsibility and ownership of their eye health, ensuring our programs are sustainable and continue long after funding has ended. Our work around the world has four major areas of focus.
Hospital Improvement: A critical aspect of our Hospital-Based Community Eye Health Program model is the work we do to build the capacity of our partner hospitals. We’ve learned that, while ensuring quality “supply” will be there when people need it is important, we must also balance this with a community focus on creating the “demand” for eye care services. If our HBCEHP model is improving our partners’ capacity to provide the ‘best for the poorest’, we need to ensure that we’re encouraging low-income people to seek eye health care.
Disease Control: A lot of avoidable blindness can be reversed through disease control measures. The most common diseases that lead to avoidable blindness are cataract, trachoma and glaucoma. Avoidable blindness is often caused by uncorrected refractive error that can be addressed with prescription eyeglasses. We refer patients through our Hospital-Based Community Eye Health Program model to address the needs of individual patients. To combat the spread of blinding trachoma in large areas of some countries where we work, we implement the World Health Organization-endorsed SAFE strategy (implementing Surgery, Antibiotics, Face washing/ hygiene education and Environmental change, including wells and latrines). And we recently launched a diabetic retinopathy project in India to bring awareness about this condition and care for those who suffer from it.
Community Eye Health: Through our Hospital-Based Community Eye Health Program model, we train local community health workers to conduct door-to-door surveys, screen patients and refer them for treatment, and educate communities on eye health. As a result, we’re able to provide eye care to those who would otherwise go unreached, and communities become healthier and stronger. Through this model, we have declared 1,025 villages avoidable blindness-free, and counting.
Research and Advocacy: We work with partners including governments and influential international non-governmental organizations to advocate for changes to governmental policies that, based on evidence, will lead to reduced levels of avoidable blindness in developing countries.
How our model works:
At the outset of any program, we target specific community needs. We conduct detailed assessments of our partner hospitals’ service deliveries, infrastructure and staffing. Using strict criteria, we define target areas and then train community health workers. Living and working in the communities they serve, community health workers are a crucial component of our model. These trained workers conduct door-to-door screenings, refer patients needing additional treatment and arrange transportation for patients where necessary. We’ve found this to be the most efficient way of reaching high-need communities, raising awareness and breaking down barriers to eye health care.
Women make up 80 percent of our community health workers, and their active involvement also helps promote women’s health and gender equality. Promoting gender equality and empowering women is important, yet many women face barriers to working. Shabnam is one community health worker who fought hard to work as community health worker, and now she’s making significant contributions to her family and her community. Read her story here.
Each area where we work includes a base secondary hospital that diagnoses and treats patients for various eye health problems. We establish primary eye care vision centres in the target communities in the hospital’s service area. Vision centres are embedded in communities to give them access to primary eye health services.
Through our model, we help ensure that every project becomes self-sustaining. We train existing hospital staff, and all recurring expenses are absorbed by the hospitals. We also implement cost-recovery practices, meaning that funding for those who can’t afford to pay comes from revenue earned from those who can afford to pay.
We reach a wide range of people, often in remote areas, and our strength comes from partnerships. By encouraging community participation and supporting our partner hospitals, our projects last long after funding has ended.Take action! Get involved helping people who can’t help themselves. It’s a global effort for human rights and justice, and we’re all in this together. The Sustainable Development Goals are critical in providing the people where we work with the dignity, independence and freedom to work, live and play like we can do at home.
There are many ways to help, from donating, to leaving a gift in your will to volunteering your time.
Blindness is a worldwide health crisis robbing millions of people of their hope, and even their lives. But with your help, we can change that. Together we can prevent blindness and restore sight for so many children, women and men… For All The World To See! Visit us at operationeyesight.com