Globally, the majority of people who are blind are women. Seva Canada and its partners have found that conducting outreach with the help of trained community members, particularly women, is the most effective strategy to achieve gender equity in eye care for adults. Even in remote, rural, impoverished settings, female community workers improve eye health education, gain trust and increase the awareness and use of available eye care services by women. When these strategies are effectively employed, we also see a drastic increase in the uptake of services for men and boys.
However, the number of girls accessing care remains the same.
We know that just as many boys and girls are being found and referred for eye care, yet girls are half as likely to receive care. This is because the families of girls often do not accept this care, even when services are free and all additional expenses for the child and caregiver, such as travel and accommodation, are paid. A year-long study involving five pediatric programs in Africa and Asia identified strategies to work around the barriers faced by girls when it comes to acceptance of care.
The following program activities have been found to improve acceptance for girls:
- Implementing a dynamic recordkeeping system to promptly inform case finders of referred children’s progress and trigger follow-up with the family by program staff
- Investing in a dedicated staff role to coordinate community outreach activities with a mandate to achieve gender equity
- Investing in community relationships that provide cultural, financial, and logistical support for health service utilization by girls
- Establishing gender equity, at all ages, as a major program goal recognized at all levels of the eye care program
- Investing in counselling by the entire care team, from community members to the eye care staff and ophthalmologists, that is gender sensitive.
As with all of Seva Canada’s investments to advance equitable eye care programs, we will continue to support program staff to assess the success of these changes, identify additional areas for improvement and help to ensure the power of sight for girls