World Sight Day (WSD) is an annual day of awareness and education around blindness and visual impairment. This year it will be celebrated on Thursday 14 October, with the theme ‘Love Your Eyes’.
What is World Sight Day?
1 billion people around the world have a preventable vision impairment and 80% of the world’s blind are avoidably so. On this day, NGOs, DPOs and civil organisations all come together to raise public awareness of blindness & vision impairment as major international public health issues and influence governments and ministers of health to participate in and designate funds for national blindness prevention programmes.
The slogan #LoveYourEyes has been chosen to emphasise the importance of eye health for us all so that we are reminded to get our eyes checked and to recommend that others do the same. The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), who are co-coordinating WSD with its members are marking this year’s event by organising a pledge that a million people will have their eyes screened in the month leading up to WSD. CBM have pledged 170,000 of this total and are participating in a global challenge, along with partners, to livestream or to share photos and videos of people having eye tests around the world on 14th October.
To celebrate World Sight Day, we are sharing three examples of our achievements in eye care, over the last year.
Milestone: 50 years in Pakistan
For the last fifty years CBM has been working tirelessly for the welfare of the people of Pakistan, especially those with avoidable blindness and people with disabilities.Dr Arif Alvi - President of Pakistan
CBM started supporting projects in Pakistan in the late 1960’s. At first, we worked primarily with missionary hospitals to provide eye care services, but from the 1990’s onwards, guided by global developments and changes in health policy, CBM extended the scope of its partnerships to include both NGOs and government departments. We gradually phased out smaller projects to focus on disability inclusive development, universal health coverage and strengthening health systems. The work of CBM alongside that of the government and partners has been fundamental in the development of inclusive eye care in Pakistan.
Innovative technology saving eyesight – partnering with Peek Vision
One of the greatest challenges in delivering effective eye care to people who live in low- or middle-income countries is that those living in more remote communities find it hard to access the care they need. Collecting the data that will identify and notify those who require further treatment is often a fragmented and difficult process that can result in patients falling through the cracks.
CBM aims to find ways to bring services to the places that need them, allowing local populations to take charge of their own health. This plays an important part in helping to strengthen the health systems in countries from the bottom up.
CBM’s collaboration with Peek Vision is one such venture. Peek has developed a clinically certified smart phone vision test app with a data capture system, which enables people with no previous experience of eye health to provide effective eye screening services in schools and in the community. Not only can more eye tests be performed, and serious eye conditions identified, but people with less complicated eye conditions can receive care in local health centres in villages. This was already the case in many places, but CBM-Peek programmes have made it easier.
CBM-Peek eye health programmes are running in multiple countries across Africa and Asia. Currently there are twelve projects in five countries - Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania.
The app can be used by people who only a have basic knowledge of using smart phones and of the English language. Its accessibility and ease of use increases coverage and reaches more clients because it does not require any particular expertise. The system is also cost-effective because it does not involve sophisticated eye equipment or specialists such as ophthalmologists to screen for the various eye conditions.Nesia Mahenge, Country Director for CBM Tanzania.
Change in Ethiopia
This year CBM has been working in Ethiopia with 11 partners on 8 projects. Yasab's story is just one of many that describes the difference this work has made.
Yasab, a farmer from Amhara in Ethiopia, lives in a rural area where there are few eye and other health care services. Her village is 180 kms away from Debremarkos, the location of her nearest facility. She has six children and the last of these was born when Yasab was blind. She struggled to maintain her household and look after her children.
Eventually, and with the help of her husband and her daughters, Yasab made her way to Debremarkos Hospital Eye Unit, where the consultant confirmed a diagnosis of bilateral secondary cataract. Because she had travelled such a long way, and because her youngest child who she had also brought with her was only 8 months old, she was admitted for surgery immediately.
She explained her reason for finally making the tricky journey:
‘When I was breast feeding my baby, we were both attacked by fire ants. All I could do was shout out and my baby was screaming. Neighbours had to come and rescue me. It was because of this incident that I realised I should try and get help.”
Surgery on Yasab’s left eye was successful. The intervention meant that she was able to see her new baby boy for the very first time - a moment of real joy for her and the rest of her family. When she was blind, she says she felt economically dependent on her husband and her parents, which led to feelings of insecurity and depression and a sense of being excluded from life. Her surgery has been transformative.