Sightsavers blog

Leading the way to inclusive eye health that leaves no one behind

Marion Steff, December 2015

We’ve been working to make our eye health programmes inclusive of people with disabilities

This past autumn, the development world has been deeply absorbed in the outcomes of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

All parties involved, including Member States, have been busy celebrating years of dialogue, compromise and advocacy to reach a consensus on a single, universal agenda to be implemented in all countries. The world has committed to this plan of action that focuses on people, planet and prosperity until 2030.

While all parties, including Sightsavers, are still currently brainstorming on an ambitious monitoring system with concrete and measurable indicators, we have also been working actively on how to make our general eye health programmes successfully inclusive of persons with disabilities when implemented. In fact, one of the outcomes of our current pilot data disaggregation by disability in India and Tanzania clearly showcased that while our eye health programmes are opened to all, the level of access of persons with disabilities varies greatly for a number of reasons. They include for instance the definition of disability and the cutoff used, geographical location of the health services as well as issues related to sex.

Sightsavers’ inclusive eye health pilot

Earlier this year, Sightsavers has been working on a very successful data disaggregation by disability pilot in Bhopal, India. One of the unintended positive consequences of this project was the appetite for both our organisation and local partners – Sewa Sedan Eye Hospital and AARAMBH – to further understand how to best achieve inclusion within eye health programmes.

Grabbing this momentum, we are now in the process of developing a new pilot initiative in Bhopal within Sightsavers’ Urban Eye Care programme. In October, Sightsavers’ North India Area Office organised a three day Inclusive Eye Health workshop to develop a common understanding among all stakeholders of what inclusive eye health means, build a shared commitment to delivering quality results and consider how this pilot will build into wider efforts to inclusion both within Sightsavers and services provided by partners. Participants from Sightsavers and representatives from partner DPOs (Disabled People’s Organisations) as well hospital and vision centre staff achieved consensus on the key principles of the pilot approach, which aims to address the barriers to eye health seeking behaviour among the most marginalised groups: women and people with disabilities.

Anticipating the impact of the pilot on other Sightsavers and partner eye health initiatives, we recognise that the success of the pilot will be dependent on a number of factors, notably:

It has to systematically include persons with disabilities. As a fundamental principle, persons with disabilities have to be included among all stakeholders to share specific perspective and knowledge on social inclusion. In fact, the continued presence of persons with disabilities necessitates accommodations that cannot help but inform the implementation process while raising awareness of accessible eye health services in the community.

It has to foster partnerships with other relevant stakeholders. For this pilot to become a systematic and sustainable approach, all stakeholders must be actively engage and believe in the feasibility of the initiative. It means to also ensure that policymakers at the local, regional and national levels are convinced of the legitimacy of this type of initiative to further duplicate it and foster relationships with other development actors, health rights NGOs, women’s rights organisations and other government representatives.

It has to be documented. For this pilot, or any other pilot, to be generically and effectively duplicated, participants agreed that the inclusion process must be thoroughly documented. This process must then be tested in other locations to identify what is the best approach to use for replication. The long term objective for Sightsavers is to ensure all programmes are accessible and inclusive of women and persons with disabilities.

What’s next?

Sightsavers’ inclusive eye health pilot will commence in 2016 for an 18 month period. Meanwhile, Sightsavers will be able to report its initial findings halfway through the project. We hope that Sightsavers’ pilot is not unique and that other actors in the health and development sector are also working toward the meaningful inclusion of persons with disabilities in the SDGs implementation.

By Marion Steff, Sightsavers social inclusion policy advisor

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