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

GVC Women
Orbis is training local women to bring primary eye care services to communities in West Bengal, India.

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.

Local women are being trained as vision technicians by Orbis’ partner hospital, Susrut Eye Foundation & Research Centre.

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.

Having centres run by women and embedded in communities aims to enable women and girls to access eye care without having to travel long distances, which could put their safety at risk or be deemed impossible because of duties in the home, formal or informal employment, or other commitments. 

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.”

Lead image: Tamanna dispensing at a Green Vision Centre, where she has been trained as a vision technician