Essilor Vision Foundation India recently held a series of screening events to reach rural communities, supported by volunteers from Essilor Manufacturing India Private Limited ( EMIL). We spoke to them to learn more about their experience and to see how they think that eye care can be improved in remote areas.
Earlier this year, the Essilor Vision Foundation India joined hands with volunteers from Essilor’s local manufacturing site and launched a series of screening events with a particular focus on rural communities. One of the volunteers who was among the key organizers of the eye camps, summarizes the three major reasons that explain why the majority of people in rural areas have never tested their eyes and why it is important to focus on this target population: “Most people in these areas have to travel between 30-50 km to reach the nearest optician. Hence, there is an issue of accessibility. The second problem is the lack of awareness. Many of these people are not aware of the solutions available to improve their vision. The third problem is affordability: the cost of the travel and the cost of the spectacles is sometimes too expensive for them. Due to these factors, over time, many people just get used to live with poor eyesight.”
“Most people in these areas have to travel between 30-50 km to reach the nearest optician. Hence, there is an issue of accessibility.”
Ms. Priya G S, Legal Affairs & Company Secretary at Essilor’s manufacturing plant in India, explains: “The local communities are truly appreciative of our initiatives. Each time they fold their hands to say ‘thank you’, we realise that another milestone in our company’s mission is achieved.” Trying on their first pair of glasses was for many people a very exciting movement. “Through our camp, they were able to wear spectacles for the first time and see clearly (for the first time!). We could see the smile on their faces when the world suddenly seemed brighter and clearer. This, I think, is a significant contribution since it will have a long lasting impact on people’s life throughout”, explains Priya.
In total 390 people have been screened and 215 required vision correction. One of the volunteers comments on these results: “Eye care today is concentrated in towns and cities where the supply is more than the demand. In the rural areas, it is exactly the opposite. This was very evident in our camps and we were surprised to find that so many of the people screened required vision correction.”
EVF started door-to-door campaigns to mobilize the villagers and to invite them to get their eyes tested. One of the volunteers describes his experience when participating in one of the screening events: “It was interesting to see that many men and women who spend a lot of time working in their fields are comfortable with their compromised vision. As they are able to see distance objects, they did not see the necessity to get their eyes screened or get their vision defects corrected.”
“It was interesting to see that many men and women who spend a lot of time working in their fields are comfortable with their compromised vision.”
When asked what should be done in the future to improve people’s sight in rural areas Priya S G points out the following three factors: “Organising regular eye camps closer to their homes, creating awareness on eye care and its ability to improve the quality of their lives, providing them with low cost affordable eye care.” Two more rural vision camps in India are in the pipeline along with other projects to improve people’s sight around the world.
Rural India suffers from a drastic shortage of eye care professionals. There is only one qualified optometrist for every 25,000 people. It is therefore not a surprise that many people suffer from uncorrected vision problems – often without even being aware of them. Undetected visual impairment can have fundamental consequences. It does not only affect one’s individual life quality but it has also negative consequences on the economic well-being of entire communities. A study has shown that the cost in lost productivity due to poor vision in India is estimated at $37 billion a year. Essilor, as a pioneer in vision care, is running several inclusive business and philanthropic initiatives to help bridge the wide vision gap in India.