Women trained to bring vision care to communities in West Bengal
Gender inequality and local eye health needs are being addressed through Orbis’ Green Vision Centres
15 March 2022
Collaborating with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the charity is developing Green Vision Centres (GVCs) in the city of Berhampore.
The project, entitled ‘Green Vision Centres: Creating Primary Eye Care Services for Children in West Bengal, India,’ is aiming to open five GVCs in the region – and the focus will be on training women to facilitate the services provided.
Vision loss globally
55% of the 1.1 billion people living with vision loss across the world are women and girls. This number equates to 112 million more women than men.
The opening of the centres was disrupted by India’s COVID-19 lockdown, although three of the five centres have now successfully opened. Over 200 eye screenings have so far taken place, and the next two centres are expected to open in July 2022.
The GVCs have been established with sustainability in mind, with digital data management software, less paper consumption, use of LEDs, and renewable solar energy systems all key to their functioning. Electric bikes for the female vision technicians have also been made available.
It is hoped that the GVCs will offer permanent access to primary eye care services for children and communities at an affordable cost. GVC fees for adult eye services will help to subsidise paediatric eye care.
Orbis is working with local NGOs to create a two-pronged awareness raising initiative, which involves village-to-village visits by Community Health Workers in order to increase public trust in the GVCs and better understand local eye health needs.
Addressing gender inequality
It is hoped that the initiative, as well as providing eye care within communities and particularly for children, will allow women to contribute socially and economically to their communities and increase their overall financial independence.
Aims of the Green Vision Centres project
The project is expected to:
- Reach 84,000 children, 15,000 of whom are younger than six years old, across 600 schools
- Provide 2600 pairs of spectacles
- Facilitate 100 paediatric eye surgeries
- Bring quality eye care services to five areas in Murshidabad, 11km outside Berhampore, West Bengal
- Provide 10 female vision technicians and five community health workers.
It is also hoped that seeing female-run GVCs will increase aspiration among girls and women, providing potential career paths as well as making them more receptive to eye care messages and counselling advice.
Rebecca Cronin, chief executive of Orbis UK, said the charity was “delighted to celebrate the work of women in our Green Vision Centres.”
She added: “Training women in eye health care is vital for tackling stigma and promoting the importance of eye care for women. Without treatment or surgeries livelihoods are lost, and children are taken out of school, plunging communities into further poverty.
“It’s often women and girls – who have lower literacy levels, are more likely to be caring for family at home and are less likely to travel for treatment – who miss out.
“But, by training local women as eye health experts, we hope to encourage more women to seek treatment, while also supporting women working in the Green Vision Centres to become more financially independent.”
Tamanna (pictured), who lives in Murshidabad, West Bengal, has been trained as a vision technician by Orbis and Susrat.
She explained that, although she was able to go to school, other girls in her community were not given the same opportunity: “I belong to a village,” she said. “Many girls I studied with were unable to complete formal education. I remember one such classmate, when I was in eighth grade, had been married off.”
Tamanna also remembers an old lady in her neighbourhood suffering from cataract. “I was too young to understand what she was going through at the time,” she said. “I remember she had gone blind because it was left untreated. Of course, after taking the vision technician course, I understand what had happened to her now.”
She added: “I remember that she was in pain. I get reminded of her, often. I know she had permanent vision loss. I would feel really upset seeing her state and that nothing could be done about her cataract.”
Tamanna says the facilities available for eye care when she was younger were sparse. “For a rural setup like mine, people faced issues to find healthcare services, let alone eye care services,” she said. “Now, with the availability of courses like mine, people like me, a vision technician, and even optometrists, are available in those remote areas.”
Tamanna revealed that her parents had high expectations for her education, hoping that she would pursue a career in medicine or teaching. Although she was unable to become a doctor, she is proud that the vision technician course, “even if at a smaller scale, is part of medical practice.”
She explained that when she did decide to take on the course, her spouse was supportive. “However,” she said, “there were reservations within the extended family over whether I could balance my job with raising my child. So, I tried my best to keep the personal and the professional in their dedicated places.”
She added: “There has to be a healthy balance... I know that since I made a commitment to take up this job, I have to work hard to keep it.”
Tamanna acknowledges that, had she been married early or forced to drop out of school, it is very unlikely that she would be employed at this stage of her life. Now, she aims to discourage early marriage when she sees it unfolding in her community.
Speaking about her future career and running a vision centre, Tamanna said: “I want to take the learning I have got from the vision technician course to greater heights. I want to use my skills to help people in need… (the) possibilities from here on are limitless.”
Lead image: Tamanna dispensing at a Green Vision Centre, where she has been trained as a vision technician