In the state of Meghalaya, Northeast India, the poverty rate is higher than in the rest of the country and development lags. 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 countrywide laws forbidding eye care facilities to operate outdoors or in non-sterile rooms, it is not possible to receive eye treatment outside large cities. Therefore, the rural population of Meghalaya has virtually no access to ophthalmic care that could lead to early-stage discovery or treatment of eye diseases. 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 of this project was 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 was 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. The project was part of a comprehensive eye care intervention that also aimed to cure avoidable blindness caused by cataracts.
Outreach services were offered in six of Meghalaya’s 11 districts. The strategy was to reach out to schools and communities in underserved areas to screen for and manage basic eye problems.
To ensure continued awareness and monitoring, schoolteachers and community leaders were trained to screen schoolchildren and adult residents for eye problems under the supervision of an ophthalmic team. Trained local staff prescribed and distributed eyeglasses and medicines and provided necessary follow-up treatments. People in need of advanced ophthalmic care or surgery were brought to a secondary treatment centre in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya.