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9GA Provides Global Context for Eye Health

More than 1,200 delegates from 66 countries gathered in Hyderabad for the 9th General Assembly (9GA) of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness during September. I was lucky enough to represent Optometry Giving Sight, along with CEO, Clive Miller.

It was an atmosphere filled with optimism and enthusiasm from day one when the former President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam who is revered in India, made the opening address. He spoke of the importance of eye health to the development of India’s future.

The extensive seminar and lecture program that followed gave participants an insight into a broad range of subjects, ranging from evidence-based studies on eye disease and treatment, to broader issues of eye health within the development sector including effective advocacy, sustainability of eye care programs and social enterprise.

A Rural Tour

A personal highlight of the trip was a rural tour with the L V Prasad Eye Institute to visit a primary vision centre and a secondary eye hospital.

The dedication of the staff to this principle is remarkable and admirable

The three-hour journey took us through many small villages where the combustion of colours, noises and faces was amazing to witness. The bizarre obstacle of a shepherd, in the middle of the road with his goats was just one illustration of how the developed and developing worlds co-exist. The bus stopped as he crossed the road with a wave and a smile.

The L V Prasad Eye Institute is famous for its ‘Eye Health Pyramid’ approach to eye care, which has also been adopted by the Indian Government. To see, first-hand, the practical implementation of this model was a rare opportunity. I felt extremely lucky.

We visited a primary vision centre where thousands of lives are transformed every year. These vision centres can serve a population of up to 50,000 people, usually around 20-25 villages. Here, people come for an eye examination and can be prescribed glasses for uncorrected refractive error. Seeing the impact of this ‘hole-in-the-wall’ vision centre, with minimal equipment and relatively low costs, really gives you a sense of hope and positivity about what can be achieved, despite the somewhat overwhelming statistics we constantly hear in relation to avoidable blindness.

Providing Further Treatment

If patients need further treatment or surgery, they are referred to a secondary eye hospital, which services ten primary vision centres, or around 500,000 people.

The Kuchakulla Ramachandra Reddy Eye Centre is one such hospital and, as part of the L V Prasad Eye Institute, it runs on the fundamental idea that those who live in rural or disadvantaged communities should receive the same high-quality eye care as those who live in the city. Prestigious fellowship positions are offered to attract the most talented eye care professionals.

The dedication of the staff to this principle is remarkable and admirable.

Most people receiving treatment at this particular centre cannot afford to pay at all. However, the option of a more ‘deluxe’ style accommodation acts as an incentive to pay a bit more if they can, with the eventual aim of making the eye hospital self-sustainable. It is with innovative ideas like this that the Institute has turned challenging circumstances into hopeful and highly impactful centres of eye care.

On an aside, it was great to spot a photo on their noticeboard of Emma Kennedy, who recently visited and opened a new glazing lab at another LV Prasad secondary hospital, as part of a joint project by EyeCare Plus and Optometry Giving Sight.

The 9GA was a valuable opportunity to appreciate the global context of the eye health movement and the magnitude of the giant wheel in which each eye health organisation plays a part. It was inspiring to see the real-life impact of projects that can often seem a world away, and to witness some of the sustainable, long-term change that eye health is bringing to the developing world.