As we work to eliminate avoidable blindness and attain the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality and good health and well-being, our focus on communities remains key to our success.
Our worldwide team of locally-recruited health workers and volunteers gives us ‘insider knowledge’ of a community’s needs and helps us deliver care that is sustainable to those who need it most.
Tapobrat Bhuyan, our Program Manager in India, says an entire community or village benefits from the presence of our health workers, because they help identify those who need eye care and encourage health-seeking behaviour through education and referral to other health resources in the area.
The position of community health worker is also a unique job opportunity, especially for women.
Tapobrat recalls an instance where he was interviewing a prospective health worker in 2013. When prompted as to why she wanted the job, the woman began to cry.
“She told me she was working in a small school, making little money. She could not afford her children’s education. However, her excellent writing skills earned her a spot on our team, where she remains to this day,” explains Tapobrat.
“The stipend she receives helped to pay for her children’s education, and one of her daughters is now a teacher.”
Once trained, community health workers survey their local community door to door, identifying eye health conditions and referring community members for care. They also collect comprehensive data on the prevalence of eye conditions so that progress can be tracked.
Tapobrat has worked closely with community health workers across India. He says they play a key role in connecting communities with eye health care, through referral to locally-established vision centres, which we open in convenient locations based on the needs of the community.
“Community health workers are the key link between communities and the vision centre. Often, individuals are unaware of their treatment options, or fear that it will be unaffordable,” Tapobrat says.
“However, our network of community health workers helps to create demand for these services by raising awareness about their availability.”
Staying locally informed
Given their connection to their own communities, Tapobrat says, community health workers can help identify and dismantle local barriers that many face in accessing eye health services.
“They provide not just screening, but also education sessions that aim to give community members more knowledge about eye health and other topics such as maternal and child health,” Tapobrat says. “These sessions empower community members to seek health care services when needed.”
Tapobrat says our approach has also led us to consult communities in the development of educational materials, including a recent project aimed at debunking feminine eye health myths.
Working with community members and a local illustrator and writer, he and our India team are creating educational materials that reflect the community’s collective identity and address local myths about eye health. Tapobrat notes that this was the first opportunity for community members to participate in this type of workshop, and it was met with success.
“Rather than just focusing on disease, we are telling stories, which draws more interest and helps create deeper engagement. We are able to connect on a more personal level when people see themselves reflected in the materials they are shown,” he says.
Delivering eye care that is sustainable
Door-to-door surveys are only one step in ensuring a community has access to eye care. Community health workers also follow up with those who were referred to the vision centre but have not yet gone, often counselling those who are hesitant to receive treatment.
“We are constantly learning and growing, especially regarding the importance of language. For example, often people only know the word ‘operation’ when referring to treatments for conditions like cataracts, rather than terms like ‘surgery,’” explains Tapobrat.
“We have learned from this and now encourage a multi-faceted explanation of treatment processes,” he adds.
Part of a global team
In Ghana, community health nurses recruited to our team are provided professional education at nursing colleges. After training, they are frequently deployed to rural areas.
“Local vision projects are usually announced at a community durbar, which is a gathering often held to discuss development projects,” explains Emmanuel Kwasi Kumah, our Country Director in Ghana. “Local leaders, healthcare workers and other community members are invited to attend and provide insight.”
Emmanuel is passionate about engaging the community and addressing local needs. He notes that our community health nurses also use other local platforms to promote eye health and engage community members.
“Given the background and training of our community health nurses, they often use techniques such as focus groups at child welfare clinics to engage mothers in discussion, provide education and learn from community members,” Emmanuel explains.
After they receive training in primary eye care, the community health nurses begin the process of surveying the area, also utilizing a door-to-door approach to ensure they reach everyone.
Emmanuel explains that they refer those with eye conditions to district hospitals, where they are further screened by ophthalmic nurses and optometrists.
After this initial survey, community health nurses continue to observe the community’s progress and follow up on their referrals. They also help to ensure proper post-treatment care plans are followed.
With this knowledge and feedback, community health nurses can help to dismantle local misconceptions about eye health and further increase the uptake of eye care services at the district hospitals.
“Community members become stakeholders in the process of eliminating avoidable blindness. Together, we help create sustainable and long-lasting change,” Emmanuel adds.
While local barriers may vary across the regions and countries we work in, the community remains at the heart of our approach.
From India to Ghana, and beyond, we are committed to addressing local needs and learning from those we work alongside.
Learn more about our approach.