All-female healthcare team to run mobile vision clinic in northern India

A group of women sitting around a room, paying attention to a speaker in the middle.
Written by Caroline Wagner Donate Today

Today, on International Women’s Day, we are excited to tell you about an innovative project we are undertaking in partnership with NorQuest College (Edmonton, AB) and the Rotary Eye and ENT Hospital (Udhampur, India). The goal of the project is to give people in a rural district in northwest India greater access to eye health care services while addressing myths that stigmatize women with poor vision.

Udhampur Block is a rural area perched high in the foothills of the Himalayas in India’s Jammu and Kashmir region. Due to the rugged terrain and roads that are often affected by flooding, it can be difficult for the people who live there to access services like eye health care. For women and girls, the barriers are even greater, as the men and boys in their families are often prioritized for health treatment.

The Operation Eyesight team meets with local community members in Udhampur.

What’s more, our research in the area revealed health myths affecting women, including those that suggest that a woman wearing eyeglasses is in poor health overall, that poor eye health is a result of sinful behaviour in a past life and that only elderly people should wear eyeglasses.

The idea behind this project is to outfit a four-wheel-drive vehicle as a fully functioning optometry clinic. An all-female heath care team will run the mobile clinic and deliver services to everyone in the project area.

We are training eight local women as Community Health Workers to do door-to-door eye screenings and to provide referrals to the Rotary Eye and ENT Hospital. They will also deliver educational sessions to women’s groups, with the goal of debunking the female eye health myths that exist in the communities.

A Community Health Worker examines a woman’s eye in northern India.

People in the area will also be asked for their input on what kind of eye health education they would like to receive using a type of participatory research called PhotoVoice. This research will place cameras into the hands of locals, who will be asked to take pictures of things that highlight the themes of the research: activities, beliefs and circumstances of eye health.

Ninety per cent of blindness worldwide is preventable or treatable, but people in underserved areas like Udhampur Block often fall through the cracks. This project will help people get access to the eye health care they need while also addressing some of the gender inequalities related to poor vision.

This innovative project aims to:
✔ Address the barriers faced by women and girls by targeting feminine eye health myths that perpetuate inequality;
✔ Incorporate input from local women on the content of our eye health education sessions and the delivery of eye health services on an ongoing basis;
✔ Activate a Mobile Vision Centre to provide eye health services to people’s doorsteps, so that all residents, including women and girls, can avoid travel-related barriers;
✔ Make role models of local women and girls by publicly engaging them in good eye health practices; and
✔ Generate buy-in from men and boys about the importance of women’s and girls’ eye health.

We are grateful to partner with NorQuest College on this initiative, which was awarded the Fund for Innovation and Transformation by the Inter-Council Network and Global Affairs Canada. To learn more, sign up for our newsletter to receive project updates: