Dr. Binita Sharma, Seva Nepal Country Program Director
We welcomed Dr. Binita Sharma as Seva Nepal's Country Program Director in January 2023. She is an eye health leader and champion for high-quality programs that serve the needs of communities. She is from Kathmandu and has spent her career as an ophthalmologist, cornea consultant and hospital administrator in Nepal.
Seva Canada: Why did you choose to study ophthalmology?
Dr. Binita Sharma: After I finished medical school I joined a hospital in which the primary role was reconstructive surgery and plastic surgery. It was the only hospital in that region, so people came for all sorts of problems, not just surgery. We used to have a lot of kids who came and said "I cannot see what the teacher writes on the blackboard." So that was what actually led me to ophthalmology. I thought "this is a good thing to do, it will be nice to be able to help these kids." I was also wearing glasses at that time, so I knew the difference between having a pair of glasses and not having them.
Seva Canada: What made you want to work for Seva Nepal?
Dr. Binita Sharma: I had been working as a clinician for a long time, and during that time I also took up the responsibility as the medical administrator. Our work involved a lot of outreach activities. It was then that it actually struck me that a lot of work needed to be done outside of the hospital, in the community. Nepal has been very fortunate in that we produce a lot of ophthalmologists now - we have 400 and about 20 graduate each year. The surgical part is being taken care of very well. But I came to know that in the outreach programs, in planning the programs, in identifying what programs work for the patient, we needed not only the administrative and financial aspect, but also the clinical aspect. There was a little bit of scarcity in this area and I took the lead in working on it at my hospital.
At that time, I was consulting with Seva on the quality and safety program, and when I saw this role [the country program director role] I applied because I saw the opportunity to apply my clinical and technical knowledge in creating even more patient-friendly, accessible and efficient methods in reaching out to the communities and making an impact.
Seva Canada: What do you see as opportunities for Seva Nepal to advance gender equity among eye health providers?
Dr. Binita Sharma: The most important thing would be for our implementing partners to develop gender equity policies. Our interactions with the hospitals will focus on promoting a working culture and structure where women are welcomed, where they are valued, and where their contributions, jobs and activities are validated and encouraged. It is important that a clear career path can be established for women. Most of the time a young girl studies but reaches a point where the competition and social structure is such that they cannot move forward. However, if we can support a female allied ophthalmic personnel's studies, and then after a certain amount of work experience, send her for further training, we can help establish a clear career path for her to follow.
Seva Canada: What would you like Canadians to know about Seva Nepal and about eye health?
Dr. Binita Sharma: Seva Nepal has been working in Nepal since 1981 and Seva Canada has been a strong ally since then. Whatever achievement Nepal can claim in improvement in eye healthcare I can very confidently say Seva Nepal has a very big role to play in it. We work with NNJS (Nepal's National Society for Comprehensive Eye Care) which provides 90% of the eye care in the country.
When we are working with hospital partners, we try not to just replicate programs. The most important thing about Seva Nepal is that our projects are not donor-driven. Seva Canada has never told us to do a particular project. Our programs are always based on what is necessary on the ground - whatever is necessary to provide services to the community. That's the most important thing and the most striking feature of Seva Nepal.
We are in constant contact with our partners. They tell us their needs and their barriers and challenges. That is how we work together to eliminate those challenges. Seva Canada has always helped us to reach our goals - especially with the Sherman School and ophthalmic assistant training which is the backbone of eye healthcare services in Nepal. Seva Canada has focused on the far west in the country and with Geta Eye Hospital. After the last RAAB (Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness) study it was shown that the prevalence of blindness in far west Nepal is less than the average for the whole nation. Geta is the only eye health provider in that province and so that achievement is Geta's achievement and Seva Canada has been supporting them from the very beginning.
Thank you Seva Canada for being such a good partner and for allowing the community to come up with their own problems and solutions. We are very happy to be working with you.
Seva Canada: What is your favourite patient story?
Dr. Binita Sharma: A 92-year-old man was living two hours from Kathmandu. He came to a screening in his area and we saw that he had operable cataract in both eyes and his vision was very poor. We wanted to take him to the hospital for surgery; we had a vehicle to take him. He refused. He said "how much longer do I have to live, there is no one to take care of me, and cook for me" We could not get him to come. All of his children were working abroad.
Four months later, one of his sons came back and he came to know that the hospital staff had asked his father to come to the hospital. His father still had the referral slip the staff had given to him and so he brought his father to the hospital. The 92-year-old man had one eye operated on and the next morning the patch was removed. I was there and I asked him how he was feeling. He looked around and said "I missed seeing this beautiful world for four months. I could have seen this four months earlier if I had listened to you''. A week later, he had his other eye operated on. Now he is active, back in his village and very happy.
"I missed seeing this beautiful world for four months. I could have seen this four months earlier if I had listened to you''.