Pop-up screening camps are at the heart of what Sightsavers does: we take free eye health care directly to the people who need it most.
I was lucky enough to see our work in action and watch our team in Bangladesh set up one of our pop-up screening camps in Rangpur. The camp was specifically set up for the Bihari community, a minority group of people who have experienced discrimination and lacked access to essential services since they fled violence in India in the 1940s to live in Bangladesh (known at the time as East Pakistan).
After registering, everyone – no matter their age or symptoms – was sent to the first pop-up room to receive a sight test from our ophthalmic assistant, Assaduzzaman Babu. The room was constructed the day before, using bamboo canes and colourful fabric. This made the camp feel inviting and relaxed, which was especially important in reaching people who weren’t used to accessing healthcare in a clinical setting.
After the initial sight test, every attendee then visited the second room where Dr Md. Azizul Islam examined their eyes.
Patients diagnosed with cataracts were directed back to the registration desk to complete a referral form for a free cataract operation.
If the patient was identified as needing glasses, or needed an alteration to their current prescription, they moved on to the third room. There, the refractionist Md. Rezaul Karim could determine how each patient’s vision could best be improved, and prescribe glasses or eye drops.
Patients who needed a cataract operation or glasses were taken back to the registration desk so their referral could be recorded. This process was carefully managed with the local partner hospital to ensure patients would receive pre-operative health checks for things like blood pressure and blood sugar.
People who were prescribed glasses had them delivered to their homes within a couple of days by local volunteers from OBAT (who are often members of the Bihari community themselves).
Free transport was arranged to take people to the hospital, so they could have any surgery as quickly as possible.
It was essential for our pop-up camp to be held within walking distance of people’s homes. Many people who are part of marginalised communities don’t have access to transport, either because it’s too expensive or because they fear using public transport, especially while their vision is limited.
During my visit to Bangladesh, I also met with Professor Enayet Hussain, one of the country’s most senior ophthalmologists and director-general of medical education in the Ministry of Health. “My responsibility is to improve the health of our country,” he told me, “and Sightsavers has helped the government to fulfil their mandate.
“They have helped us to mobilise communities,” he continued. “It is an excellent contribution as the government does not have community outreach programmes. People in rural communities definitely trust Sightsavers and as government, we have integrated our existing health systems into Sightsavers programmes.”