Our 2021 Eye Health Heroes

December 1, 2021 – The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness has announced this year’s cohort of Eye Health Heroes. We’re incredibly proud to share that three of them work with Operation Eyesight. They work with passion, purpose and determination to improve peoples’ lives all over the world.

Congratulations to our 2021 Eye Health Heroes: Janet Nkhoma, Tapobrat Bhuyan and Kristin Poch.

Janet Nkhoma: Change-maker

Community Health Worker, Zambia

Janet started working in the eye health sector when she joined Operation Eyesight as a community health worker in 2015. After completing her first round of training, she began going door-to-door in Mandevu, Zambia to identify patients with eye conditions and refer them to a vision centre that had been established in Mandevu compound. She then underwent a second round of training, where she was empowered with knowledge on cluster plans to conduct health promotion and education activities, and to provide support to people experiencing eye health issues. In this role, Janet referred and counselled families who needed eye health treatment and helped dispel myths and misconceptions related to seeking care, such as concerns regarding the quality of care and prohibitive cost.

Janet has supported many members of her community throughout their eye health journeys, and thanks to her support, many of those beneficiaries now serve as eye health ambassadors, too. In turn, this has created a ripple effect of more and more people pursuing eye health treatment or seeking Janet out to ask questions or address their concerns.

When Operation Eyesight launched a new hospital-based community eye health project in Matero, Zambia, Janet offered her services to conduct door-to-door surveys in the area. Her skills and experience in counselling and encouraging patients to go for surgery have been invaluable, and she is passing her knowledge on to her new project partner, continuing to create a ripple effect of positive change.

Over the past six years, Janet has become a leader in her community and a trusted eye health resource. With her patience and dedication, she has influenced community behaviour towards eye health and encouraged more people to seek medical assistance. She has empowered many children, women and men to access the care needed to prevent blindness and restore sight – For All The World To See.

“I have learned a lot about eye health and would like to help more people who are suffering from treatable eye conditions to get help and be able to see again.” – Janet

Kristin Poch: Innovator

Community Engagement Specialist, Canada

As the Community Engagement Specialist for Operation Eyesight, Kristin has been at the forefront of discovering and creating new ways to engage with staff, partners and stakeholders across all of the organization’s countries of work. She is a tireless advocate for universal eye health coverage and works hard to share her passion by running unique events to raise awareness of this critical issue. With the onset of COVID-19, she rose to the challenge of continuing to keep her team connected to promote eye health in safe, virtual and/or socially-distanced ways. With her compassion, positive attitude and creativity, she motivates others to embrace new possibilities and brings great energy to her team.

Kristin has been instrumental in executing innovative, virtual events to facilitate conversations about eye health, international development and universal health coverage. A recent example was an interactive “Health for Humanity” webinar to discuss the integration of eye health care into universal health coverage, which included a uniquely-built online platform, speakers from four different continents and participants from many different time zones.

For the last three years, Kristin has spearheaded engaging World Sight Day campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of eye health and to foster collaboration across Operation Eyesight’s various teams and departments. During the week of World Sight Day 2021, Operation Eyesight’s global team screened nearly 4,500 people, performed or booked 270 cataract surgeries, provided 297 pairs of prescription eyeglasses and trained 28 community health nurses in primary eye care – with Kristin providing support to the team and showcasing the organization’s collective impact every step of the way. She led a digital awareness campaign that reached over 46,000 people, encouraging everyone to take the #LoveYourEyes pledge and to learn more about why Everyone Counts.

While she might not be the “boots on the ground” in Operation Eyesight’s communities of work, Kristin is a champion for eye health and her contributions to her organization and to the eye health sector have been appreciated by many. She continues to find innovative and creative ways to drive her organization forward in pursuit of its vision of the elimination of avoidable blindness – For All The World To See.

“Eye health is something that is often overlooked. However, when we prioritize eye health and provide access to those most in need, profound results can occur. My role at Operation Eyesight has allowed me to work closely with all departments, from finance to programs and everything in between. This unique opportunity has truly opened my eyes to the importance of eye health and makes me proud to work alongside some of those most influential in the sector. Together, I know we can end avoidable blindness for everybody, no matter who they are or where they are from.” – Kristin

Tapobrat Bhuyan: Future Leader

Programme Manager, India

Tapobrat began his eye health career in 2013 as a project coordinator at Sri Sankaradeva Nethralaya hospital in Assam, India. He was responsible for implementing Operation Eyesight’s Hospital-Based Community Eye Health Project (HBCEHP) model in Sonapur. This was among the first HBCEH projects to be launched by Operation Eyesight, and Tapobrat was instrumental in its successful implementation. Through this project, more than 4,000 people received treatment for eye health issues and more than 10,000 people received a pair of eyeglasses. In 2018, the project area was declared avoidable blindness-free by the governor of Assam. Thanks to Tapobrat’s leadership, many of the community health workers he selected and trained in 2013 are still engaged with Sri Sankaradeva Nethralaya in varying capacities.

In 2016, Tapobrat officially joined Operation Eyesight as a project manager to implement the Avoidable Blindness-Free Arunachal Pradesh (ABFAR) project, Operation Eyesight’s first project in collaboration with the National Programme for Control of Blindness and Visual Impairment and the Government of Arunachal Pradesh. The project was implemented in a remote location to reach people who did not have access to eye health services. Throughout the project, Tapobrat regularly visited village-level eye screening camps with government ophthalmic assistants and motivated them to provide the best care possible to the local communities. He also used his community mobilization skills and knowledge of the local language to encourage people to access eye care services at government eye care facilities. This project received significant recognition at the national level due to its unique approach to providing community-level eye care. Following the successful implementation of the ABFAR project, in 2020, an Integrated Primary Eye Care Programme was launched in 10 districts in Arunachal Pradesh, and it has been scaled up in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Meghalaya.

To date, Tapobrat has trained over 300 primary health care staff from Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. Through Operation Eyesight’s Vision Centre-Based Community Eye Health project, he has also trained an additional 45 community health workers. He currently looks after 39 vision centres across five states of India and oversees various projects in Nepal and Bangladesh. His commitment to the community and dedication to reducing avoidable blindness makes Tapobrat a valuable leader in the eye health sector. The impact of his leadership and community-focused work will continue to create positive change in the lives of others – For All The World To See.

“I was born in the North-Eastern region of India, which is difficult to work in due to a lack of proper connectivity, infrastructure and trained manpower. Since childhood, I have seen many senior community members live their last part of life with blindness, but a simple cataract surgery would have changed that. Now, I am fortunate to contribute to the elimination of avoidable blindness from my region. In my role, I strategically plan and implement Operation Eyesight’s community eye health programmes, so that we can generate awareness towards eye health and ensure that the maximum number of people receive services.” – Tapobrat

To learn more, visit iapb.org/connect/members/eye-health-heroes-2021