The report outlines the 5 year progress of the eye health project in the Sundarbans. The goal of the project was to contribute towards elimination of avoidable blindness in the Sundarbans region of West Bengal by 2018. With this project Sightsavers aimed to improve coverage and access to affordable quality eye health services in the region.
Sightsavers initiated the Sundarbans Eye Health Service Strengthening Project in 2013. The project aimed to address the urgent need for improving eye health in selected blocks in North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas (West Bengal, India). The project was financially supported by Standard Chartered Bank under the ‘Seeing is Believing’ initiative. The five years intervention has resulted in reducing blindness to 0.7 % where the prevalence was 1.9%, during the baseline survey.
Along with this, Sightsavers India also observed a huge change in perceptions due to constant awareness generation in field. About 23,55,720 people were reached through various IECs and community sensitisation activities. It included working with local communities and undertaking sensitisation activities and outreach camps through clubs, women’s groups and others.
The project incorporated the provision of free corrective surgeries for specific categories, such as cataract cases among children and the elderly with financial difficulties, in association the District Blindness Control Program. It provided access to affordable spectacles and supported school screening and referrals. Moreover, vision centres at the block level played a pivotal role in the project. Capacity building activities for personnel associated with the project as well as those working on eye health within the local public health systems were also undertaken.
To cater to the population in Sundarbans, the project has 17 vision centres housed at block. Through the vision centre the project aimed at providing accessible, affordable and high quality eye health services. The core of every vision centre was based on the concept of sustainability which aimed towards generating enough revenue to be able to support the expenses like running cost of VC, salary of one VT and one community health worker.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. RN Mohanty, Chief Executive Officer, Sightsavers India said, “Sightsavers India research shows that Prevalence of blindness in Sundarbans: 1.88% (higher than national average of 1.00% and West Bengal average of 1.19%) and vision problems remain largely unaddressed due to low perceived severity. As far as vision centres are concerned, 10 out of 17 vision centres are economically sustainable to continue the activities even after the support is withdrawn by Sightsavers. With this project, I strongly believe that we were able to successfully increase awareness and improve attitudes towards eye health in the target communities. Under this project, we also provide support to interested community members to grow as health ambassadors who can share key messages on eye health as well as help their local communities access related services.”