What do we mean by the global eye health crisis?

Sightsavers, October 2021

Sumrana Yasmin, Sightsavers’ global technical lead for eye health, talks to Mutave Mutemi via video about her background, her work, the global eye health crisis and how we all have a part to play in addressing it.

Sumrana discusses the current statistics around global blindness and visual impairment rates, and the fact that the numbers are likely to increase based on identified trends.

She also talks about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for the global community to take urgent action to tackle the challenges of ensuring all people can access eye care services.

You can watch Mutave’s interview with Sumrana below.
Five-year-old Saidi smiles while sitting on his father's lap following cataract surgery.

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World Sight Day interview transcript: Sumrana Yasmin and Mutave Mutemi

Sumrana: I’m Sumrana Yasmin, I’m working with Sightsavers as senior global technical lead for refractive error. I’m based in Islamabad, Pakistan. I joined [the] eye care sector in 2004.

And I think one of the reasons I joined this sector was because I myself was a kid with myopia and I could relate to the cause. And I thought that I might be able to play my role just to make sure that kids who need eye health services they can get it.

Mutave: That’s really nice, that’s really amazing actually. So, maybe you can tell me a little bit about how that journey has been for you, and what’s one of your favourite memories working in eye health?

Sumrana: The journey has been really, really rewarding and interesting at the same time. I initiated the work by being part of a different project which primarily focused on vision rehabilitation. So working a lot with children, children with vision impairment where the regular intervention cannot help you restore sight. So, the rehabilitation aspect was really strong in my initial phase of my work. And then slowly, I moved on to other areas.

I love almost all aspects of my work, but I particularly enjoy working on our school health integrated programmes. And as I said earlier, because I feel it gives me an opportunity to make sure that children, particularly young girls, have access to eye care and spectacles.

I believe that clear vision and healthy eyes play a huge role in children’s wellbeing and social development. So, I feel that investing in their health, eye health, education and overall wellbeing is the best investment we can make as individuals and as a society. So yeah, I’m just playing my humble role in this fabulous journey with everyone.

Mutave: That’s amazing, it sounds like you really love and enjoy what you do, which is absolutely amazing. So let’s get a bit into it. Why do we say that there’s a global eye health crisis? And what does that mean?

Sumrana: So, the World Health Organization released its first World Report on Vision in 2019 and that report highlights that at least 2.2 billion people across the globe have a vision impairment. And out of this, there are almost one billion people who have a vision impairment which can’t be prevented but can still be addressed. We know that based on the trends that these numbers are going to increase.

We also know that women, people with disabilities and other marginalised groups are more affected by it because they have less access to care. And in the last 18 months COVID-19 and its long-term implications basically further aggravated the situation. So, it is right to say that we are in a global eye health crisis and we need to do something about it.

Mutave: How did this come about? What are the causes of the growing numbers of people who have been affected by visual impairments?

Sumrana: We know that uncorrected refractive error and cataract are the leading causes of visual impairment, which can be addressed if people have access to comprehensive and inclusive eye health systems and services.

At the same time, the focus and priority of national governments and policymakers can be challenging because there are so many other competing priorities. So, how can we highlight the fact that eye care is high on the priority of decision makers, to make sure that the right resources are allocated to develop and integrate eye health services into the health and education system is the way to go. So, awareness raising, advocacy efforts to get these messages out that we need to make sure that people who need eye care have access to the right services is the high-time I believe.

Mutave: Is there anything more that could be added or that needs to happen in order for us to tackle it?

Sumrana: Absolutely, a global commitment, because until and unless everybody is on board to take this message forward and take this agenda forward and linking it with [the] overall picture of universal health coverage, sustainable development goals is equally important.

Mutave: And how is Sightsavers making a difference?

Sumrana: At Sightsavers, our principles of partnership and leaving no one behind are at the heart of our eye health and refractive error programming. We also realise that until and unless gaps in evidence and data are addressed, we won’t be able to support the development of high-quality eye health and refractive services.

So, by applying [a] system strengthening approach, we make sure that we engage with all stakeholders to develop the services which can be sustainable and then scaled up.

And also, while we are at it, we just try to make sure that these services are evidence informed, gender responsive, rooted in local context and accessible for all.

Mutave: And as my last question, what is your message for World Sight Day to anyone that’s listening?

Sumrana: One of the key messages which I want all of us to take forward this World Sight Day is that this is a journey which cannot be achieved if we are doing our thing in silos. All of us have to play a significant role in this journey, but at the same time collaboration, working with each other is going to be key. So, taking everyone’s view on board, most importantly people with vision impairment and their experiences and their voices on board, is something which will help us to make sure that the services which we are trying to provide are according to their needs.

And for I myself, being a parent, just making sure that our kids get regular eye examinations, get their spectacles if they need it, use their spectacles if they need them, because that is something which will open the doors of opportunities for all of them.

Mutave: Thank you!


Mutave Mutemi is Sightsavers’ regional stories and media lead and is based in Kenya.


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