VisionSpring, BRAC celebrate correcting 2m vision

Reading Glasses for Improved Livelihoods (RGIL) programme funded by VisionSpring in partnership with BRAC Health, Nutrition and Population Programme (HNPP), is celebrating its milestone achievement of correcting the vision of two million people, said a press release.

VisionSpring and BRAC honoured the Community Health Workers (CHWs), key staff, and delivery partners at an exclusive celebration that took place at the BRAC Centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 23 January.

Honourable guest speakers included professor AHM Enayet Hussain, vice-chancellor of Sylhet Medical University and country chair of the IAPB Bangladesh Chapter, and Upenthyo George, consultant (Public Health) at the ministry of health of uganda.

Jordan Kassalow, founder of VisionSpring, and Ahmed Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, former vice chair of BRAC, also spoke in the event on RGIL's journey.

In addition, the event was attended by Ella Gudwin, CEO of VisionSpring, Misha Mahjabeen, country director, VisionSpring Bangladesh, Asif Saleh, executive director of BRAC and Shameran Abed, Executive director of BRAC International.  

Established in 2006, the RGIL programme pioneered the training of Community Health Workers (CHWs) of BRAC to provide basic eye care services to their communities. The programme was grounded in the premise that reading glasses are one of the most underutilised, low-cost, high-impact tools available to boost economic and social outcomes for low-income individuals and their households.

Through funding from Cartier, Warby Parker and National Vision, the programme has successfully scaled nationally in Bangladesh and replicated in Uganda and Zambia with the networks of CHWs, programme staff and organisational partners (BRAC as well as United Purpose and CARE).  

The program trains Community Health Workers to identify the most common cause of blurry vision (presbyopia), allowing them to earn a living by distributing reading glasses, and eventually refer more people into the health system for higher-level eye care, preserving the capacity of a limited number of optometrists and ophthalmologists for more complex eye conditions.

When the programme started, the idea that age-related blurry vision could be treated outside of the doctor’s office, by CHWs, was controversial. Today, tens of thousands of CHWs have screened the vision of 10 million people and disbursed more than 2 million reading glasses across 3 countries, conducting basic vision tests, and referring customers to specialists for higher-level services.

The approach has been replicated by other NGOs and national governments, and late last year the World Health Organisation (WHO) incorporated the RGIL methodology into their online Training in Assistive Products module.

Ella Gudwin, CEO of VisionSpring, commented, “Sixteen years ago we took a leap of faith to launch a disruptive programme aimed at de-medicalizing the delivery of reading glasses, with a view to opening up access to near-vision correction for millions. We’re proud of the longstanding partnerships that made this milestone possible and to have established the precedent to bring this programme to millions more. We are excited to join hands with others who are ready to solve this problem at scale!”

Morseda Chowdhury, director, BRAC Health Nutrition and Population Programme (HNPP) said, “This is a perfect example of an effective public health intervention scalable in a low-resource setting. A multi-tasking CHW can be utilised to tackle a stubborn problem that impedes the quality of life as well as reduces productivity and thus economic potential of a country. The Bangladesh Government has already achieved many milestones for overall health status of the population, however, to reach the SDG target of universal health coverage, we must work together to take this solution to the last mile.”