SightLife/USAID Project Brings Eye Care to Children in India
SightLife and USAID have successfully completed a project in India that shared knowledge and skills for early treatment of eye injuries in children. The training prepared hundreds of health care professionals and allowed thousands of patients (including nearly 4,000 children) to receive care to preserve or restore their sight.
The project began in November 2020 covering the blocks of Biswan, Leherpur and Tambaur in Sitapur district in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
It had three main objectives: developing targeted preventive and primary corneal care for children in the catchment area of Sitapur Eye Hospital; building capacity for corneal surgeons to provide treatment for children requiring corneal transplants; and screening children at the community level to prevent and treat corneal abrasions and minor infections or refer them for further care.
The project provided a virtual clinical training to 13 surgeons from Uttar Pradesh on pediatric medical management of cornea diseases and transplantation. The course was led by pediatric experts from L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, Dr. Shroff’s Charity Eye Hospital, and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
SightLife and USAID also organized an in-person training for 639 Accredited Social Health Activists (female community health workers known as ASHAs) in the targeted blocks. The ASHAs play a crucial role in reaching out to the community and are usually the first leads in diagnosing eye-related issues in remote areas.
The training focused on basic eye anatomy and on how to diagnose, treat or refer cases of corneal abrasions, allergies infections, ulcers , vitamin A deficiencies, and other eye health problems in children. Children in rural villages are often victims of eye injuries or other treatable eye conditions, and these skills can help to identify and treat them before they can lead to blindness.
“The program has a very transparent and ethical process wherein without the consent of parents, we cannot examine the eyes of the child. This makes things very clear and easy between ASHA and the guardians,” said Meera Singh, an experienced ASHA who participated in the pediatric training.
“Also, the community has started trusting our skills immensely and their hesitation levels have gone drastically down. Now, they take their children to local ASHAs as first point of contact in case of any eye injury which certainly was not the case earlier. With the constant use of posters, pamphlets, and word of mouth publicity, more and more people are getting sensitized about this program which is very much needed,” she said.
ASHAs also increase people’s knowledge of basic eye care hygiene and eye protection. They have demonstrated great competence and have come to be seen as trusted primary eye care providers by most people in the targeted communities.
For instance, Manjulata, the local ASHA in the village of Kothipurva, helped to diagnose a corneal abrasion in 8-year-old Saurabh’s eye, treating it with a topical antibiotic. Saurabh hurt his eye with a stick while playing with his friends.
“I am thankful to SightLife’s program and Manjulata. If it was not for her, we would have had no choice but to see a private doctor whose fee would have been unaffordable for a poor family like ours. For us, it is not even feasible to take transportation and visit a local doctor and buy medicines,” said Saurabh’s mother.
The project ended in May 2022. SightLife continued to work closely with local stakeholders and a partner eye hospital to surpass the committed goals of screening, referral and treatment of children, capacity building of surgeons, and conducting community awareness campaigns in three blocks of Sitapur district to promote prevention of eye infection and eye trauma in children.
The project benefited 28,680 people, training 655 health care personnel. About, 3,864 of the patients were children up to 14 years of age.