Anytime we witness a child being able to see well for the first time after receiving a pair glasses, it’s a moment to remember. At a recent vision clinic in Antigua, an 8-year-old girl expressed her joy with the words, “This is the best day of my life.” She was experiencing the wonder that came from being able to see the world around her.
While it was a memorable moment for her, her experience is a result of well-thought plans and actions designed to ultimately create a sustainable system in which more children will see their best days ahead of them.
The late Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners in Health was famous for saying, “True access to care requires the Five S’s: staff, stuff, space, social support and systems.” In his work, he challenged that new anesthetic machines, for example, are useless without people who know how to operate them, an operating theater in which they can work, and a public health system that acknowledges the need for surgery.
The same can be said for our work to eliminate poor vision in a generation.
Providing good vision to a person in need requires more than handing out a simple pair of glasses. If we are to reach the 2.7 billion people who still don’t see their best, we must create a sustainable system that ensures processes can be maintained at optimum levels and replicated again and again around the world.
The EssilorLuxottica Eliminating Poor Vision in a Generation Report highlights what’s needed on a global scale: affordable products, access creation, refraction tools, public awareness, expansion of funding, government programs and partnerships, and data.
On a country level, we’ve also specifically seen first-hand the need for these interventions for efficient sustainable systems:
- Trained eye care professionals: In many countries trained eye care providers are hard to come by. Yet, eye care professionals are the delivery mechanism to get a pair of glasses on a child’s face, like the girl we mentioned earlier. And they’re crucial in the continuum of care. According to an article by the World Economic Forum, there is a significant global need for more eye care professionals. The article states there are 331,743 optometrists globally, according to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. It goes on to say that fourteen million optometrists are needed globally to provide effective and adequate eye care services, using the World Health Organization’s global recommendation of a 1:600 practitioner-to-patient ratio. A commitment to developing an eye care work force will require a commitment from country-level governments to fund training institutions and programs.
- Mechanism for follow up: Philanthropic vision services are often an effective way to provide access to vision care in a country, especially for those without affordable services. But challenges arise when a recipient needs their glasses adjusted, when visual changes occur, or the recipients require new prescriptions. Awareness raising efforts to encourage regular eye exams only go so far if the service providers are lacking. Both education of the need to continue to seek vision services and infrastructure improvements will be crucial to ensure that an individual’s first pair of glasses doesn’t become his last.
- Working alongside national governments and partners in country: Strengthening any aspect of the healthcare system takes time and investment. It can only succeed working alongside the national government and with local partners, as commitment from a country’s leadership is key. We’ve experienced this firsthand. When a leader shows a commitment, change can happen.
A sustainable system for vision care is bigger than a pair of glasses, a clinic, or trained eye care professionals. It requires, first and foremost, an understanding of the impact good vision has on every aspect of a society’s success.
In keeping with Dr. Farmer’s Five S’s, we know that a truly sustainable system cannot exist without each spoke in the wheel. Given the opportunity, we might suggest one more S be added to the list: Significance. By ensuring good vision has significance (the quality of being worthy of attention) on the global stage, we can and will create the proper systems to ultimately end poor vision as we know it.