Health initiative targets marginalised groups and tackles global eye health crisis

The world is facing a global eye care crisis but a project in Pakistan has shown that inclusive health for everyone, regardless of their gender, age, health or background, is achievable.
Without urgent resource, funding and effort, the number of people who are blind could treble by 2050. Yet this isn’t inevitable: almost half of global vision loss is preventable or treatable with quality eye care services.

Sightsavers’ Right to Health programme, funded by the UK government through UK Aid Match, helped around 1.4 million people from marginalised groups in Pakistan access basic eye health. It focused on groups which have faced barriers accessing these treatments and care – including people with disabilities, women, older people and transgender communities.

It showed how lives can be transformed and why it is so important for governments around the world to make eye care an integral part of national health and education systems.
Leena Ahmed, Associate Programme Manager for Right to Health in Pakistan at Sightsavers said: “Access to quality eye care can have a transformative effect on individuals and communities. We know that good eye health increases access to education and the workplace, and improves productivity and wellbeing.
“We found that people with disabilities, older people, women and other marginalised groups face many barriers when it comes to accessing health care.
Continued resource, funding, and commitments to health system strengthening are needed from governments and other organisations, if we are to reduce the burden of vision impairment around the world and ensure inclusive health access for everyone. No one should be left behind when it comes to eye health.”
Vision loss is typically far greater in low- and middle-income countries, particularly among older people and in women. Treating it reduces poverty and helps individuals regain independence.
Efforts in Pakistan have so far resulted in over 38,000 cataract surgeries, eye health prescriptions for more than 555,000 people and over 511,000 non-surgical treatments. As part of the Right to Health project Sightsavers has also worked with the government to reactivate their inclusive eye health task force and draft national guidelines on how to make eye health accessible to all, which include recommendations to help guide policy, institutionalise inclusive eye health within the wider health system and improve the quality of services, leading to lasting policy change.
People with disabilities and others who traditionally face barriers to health service access were reached through initiatives which including working with the government and partners to raise awareness of the importance of eye health, community-based screenings, improved health facility accessibility, training health workers on disability, sign language and gender inclusion.
Munazza Gillani, Country Director Pakistan at Sightsavers, said that, “Eye health is an important area of health services, and it is vital to recognise and accommodate the needs of people with disabilities and other marginalised groups. Right to Health has helped pave the way to do this – and for inclusive eye care in Pakistan. What really helped was the high level of ownership from government. Thanks to them inclusive eye health has become an integral theme of the National and Provincial Integrated People Centred Eye Care plans endorsed by Ministry of Health.”
“It is now the responsibility of the government to continue this work, endorse and implement the guidelines, and make inclusive eye health a reality across the country through joint efforts with international and national partners. The aim is to make eye health services inclusive, equitable, affordable and accessible for everyone in all geographies of Pakistan.”
The success of programmes such as Right to Health can be seen through the stories of people like Sardar from the Brick Kiln community in Pakistan, a group of brick kiln workers and their families. After being diagnosed with cataract at a Sightsavers eye camp, he was referred for cataract surgery funded through Right to Health.

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