Community health nurses help break down gender barriers in accessing eye care

A woman holds up an eye chart to people to people not seen in the photo. Behind her, you can see sandy terrain, palm trees and a fishing boat with several men on board.
Written by Colin Zak Donate Today

In her village of Kormantse, in Ghana’s Central Region, 38-year-old Mabel wears many hats – she’s a single mom, a nurse and a leader in her community.

She’s also proof of the unique role women can have in impacting the health of communities across Africa.

“I was working as a community health nurse before I was invited to be trained as a primary eye care worker,” Mabel says, referring to her work with the care team at the government-run Kormantse Clinic. “There’s a high prevalence of eye conditions among the fisher folk in my community. The nature of their work makes them more likely to suffer from eye diseases. That’s why I joined the fight against avoidable blindness in the municipality.”

Today, thanks to the training she received through Operation Eyesight, Mabel provides education and eye health screening to others across the Municipality of Mfantseman. “I still carry out my duties as a community health nurse, but eye care is now well integrated in the things I do,” she says.

A woman holds up an eye chart to people to people not seen in the photo. Behind her, you can see sandy terrain, palm trees and a fishing boat with several men on board.
Mabel conducts a health education session for nursing mothers in Mfantseman Municipality, Ghana. Community health nurses create awareness of eye health and other health topics such as maternal and child health. 

Vision impairment disproportionately affects women and girls across the globe, yet they are less likely to be prioritized for eye care. Lack of income and transportation are common barriers, as are traditional female responsibilities like child care and collecting water. That’s why it’s so important to have women like Mabel trained to screen for eye conditions. She can reach women and girls at home, provide referrals, and offer the information and reassurances that some may need to seek treatment.

As a single working mom, Mabel needs to balance her work with caring for her young daughter. She says she enjoys the flexibility that comes with working with Operation Eyesight.

“Operation Eyesight supports me with transportation and meals when I go to the field,” she says. “I save part of my wages to pay for my child’s school fees.”

A woman interviews a man, taking notes on a clipboard. They sit outdoors on a bench in a rural village setting.
Mabel interviews a community member during a door-to-door survey. 

Mabel says she’s passionate about helping others, especially those experiencing poverty.

She recalls a patient whose story has stuck with her. Yaw, a 69-year-old man who lives in Kormantse, had been experiencing blurred vision for three years. Mabel says she visited his home as part of a routine door-to-door screening and quickly discovered that he had cataracts. She referred him to the base hospital for surgery, which he promptly visited the next day. He underwent sight-restoring surgery and today he can see clearly.

Other times, Mabel may face more reluctant patients, so part of her job is to encourage those who have had little interaction with the healthcare system to get treatment, and to assure them that it’s both safe and worthwhile. She adds that spending time with people in her community is what makes her work so rewarding.

“The job gives me the opportunity to interact with many people,” Mabel says. “My family sees this job as an opportunity to change the perception about eye health through education.”

International Women’s Day 2023

March 8, 2023 is International Women’s Day – it’s an opportunity to spread the message of gender equality and highlight the importance of creating a society free of gender bias. It’s also a chance to celebrate the unique role women like Mabel play in communities globally.

Most of the community health workers trained by Operation Eyesight partner hospitals are women. When women are employed as community health workers, they have an opportunity to become trusted leaders in their communities and act as catalysts for positive health outcomes. This employment improves their ability to become active participants in their family’s socioeconomic stability.

Not only is empowering women and reducing gender inequalities the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do. Evidence shows that empowering women is one of the strongest catalysts for driving sustainable development across all sectors. It enhances economic growth, improves education and increases positive health outcomes. You can learn more about our gender strategies by signing up for our eNewsletter.

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