World Sight Day: putting vision first

Debbie Young

Debbie Young with a patient

As World Sight Day approaches (9 October), Debbie Young explains how one team of eyecare professionals is helping to put vision first in Uganda

Surely everyone should have the right to sight? Here in the developed world we take access to eyecare services for granted; whether it’s a case of needing a simple pair of prescription spectacles or some eye drops to treat an eye infection/inflammation or even a condition such as glaucoma, help is always readily available. However, for many people, life is not this easy.

For those who live in developing countries and who have no access to eyecare services, vision problems such as failing sight, impaired sight and even blindness, are accepted as another of life’s many hardships. Yet, more than three out of every four of the world’s visually impaired could be treated. It is estimated that more than a billion people cannot see well simply because they do not have access to prescription spectacles So, what can we, as eyecare professionals do to help try and tackle this problem?

Call to action

World Sight Day is an annual day of awareness that focuses global attention on blindness and visual impairment; this year it falls on Thursday 10 October. World Sight Day 2019 is particularly poignant because it will be the last World Sight Day before the year 2020 – which is both the year that was set as the target date by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Action Plan to tackle avoidable blindness and visual impairment as well as being an iconic year for sight! This year’s call to action is Vision First!

Why not use World Sight Day 2019 to help raise awareness of the issues faced by those who do not have optometric and ophthalmic services in their region? When a child who has no access to eyecare services struggles to see to read and write, invariably they will drop out of education. When an adult can’t see to do their job, they will drop out of employment. Even something as simple as peeling the vegetables or removing a splinter can be hugely challenging for the presbyope. World Sight Day is a day to consider how we, as well-trained eyecare professionals, can help to solve such problems and how we can collectively find solutions.

You may wish to support an eye-project in a developing country that aims to help tackle the problem of no access to eye care services. The Sight4Bwindi team are one example of how a small group of committed UK optometrists are trying to help. After working in the remote village of Bwindi in South West Uganda in 2017 and 2018, the Sight4Bwindi team recognised that despite there being an award-winning Hospital in the region, there were no eyecare services. The Bwindi Community Hospital provides a range of medical services to a population of 100,000 that include malaria, malnutrition, HIV/Aids and obstetrics but eye problems are simply not provided for.

The hospital’s management team, in conjunction with the Sight4Bwindi team, have therefore developed a five-year plan to remedy this. Their plan, which details how to establish a simple but credible eyecare service, has even received approval from the Ugandan Minister of Health.

Reading again

Uganda has a population of 42 million people yet has only 37 ophthalmologists – that’s less the one ophthalmologist per million people. Employing an ophthalmologist is not realistic however, employing a qualified eye nurse is. A Ugandan trained eye nurse is able to treat 75-80 per cent of eye diseases at community level qualified and will diagnose and treat disease, refract and even carry out minor surgery.

Sight4Bwindi are therefore raising funds to employ not just one, but two eye nurses and to kit out an eye Ccinic at Bwindi Community Hospital. By supporting the project for five years, the Eye Service will become established and its sustainability will be guaranteed.

Why not use World Sight Day as a platform from which to promote how you and/or your practice are supporting those in need? Sight4Bwindi welcomes all help as the more people who get behind this project the quicker the Bwindi Eye Clinic will be up and running.

Please contact a member of the Sight4Bwindi team via You will be provided with leaflets for your practice plus a donation box and will be signed up to receive a regular newsletter and a promotional World Sight Day pack too. Every penny raised will go directly to the project and hopefully things will be looking up very soon for the Bwindi community.