In the state of Meghalaya, Northeast India, poverty is higher than in the rest of the country, and development is lagging. Life expectancy is 56.2 years. Many international NGOs are not engaged in the region because of its linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity and complexity as well as armed conflicts. Though less turbulent in recent times, Northeast India remains one of the most marginalised and excluded areas of India.
Due to country-wide laws forbidding eye care facilities to operate outdoors or in non-sterile rooms, it is not possible to receive eye treatment outside of large cities. Therefore, the rural population of Meghalaya has virtually no access to ophthalmic care that could lead to the discovery or treatment of eye diseases at an early stage. Especially for children, this can lead to serious disability: Children with untreated eye problems may be unable to attend school and suffer from social exclusion. Avoidable blindness is not uncommon.
The overall goal is to improve the quality of life among some of the most vulnerable members of society, particularly those residing in remote rural communities. The specific goal of this project is to offer access to ophthalmic screening and care to people in remote villages of Meghalaya and to improve the ophthalmic health of this population on a lasting basis, with a focus on reaching children through their teachers and schools.
Outreach services will be offered in six of the eleven districts of Meghalaya. The strategy will be to reach out to schools and communities in underserved areas so as to screen for and manage basic eye problems. To ensure continued awareness and monitoring, schoolteachers and community leaders will be trained to screen schoolchildren and adult community residents for eye problems under the supervision of an ophthalmic team. People who require advanced ophthalmic care or surgery will be brought to a secondary treatment centre in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. Trained local staff will prescribe and distribute eyeglasses and medicines and provide necessary follow-up treatments. The project is part of a comprehensive eye care intervention that also aims to cure avoidable blindness caused by cataracts.
Activities in detail:
One of the project’s critical success factors is the high level of motivation among the involved ophthalmologists as well as the strong, long-standing cooperation between Light for the World, the eye clinic and local community-based rehabilitation programs.
Schoolchildren in Meghalaya with visual impairments and eye diseases, most of them living below the poverty line, will be the main beneficiaries of this project. Identifying refractive errors will help keep the children in school, and identifying glaucoma or cataracts at an early stage will help prevent blindness. Whole communities will benefit from greater awareness of eye health and from the screening program to be offered to adults and children alike.