World Sight Day 2022: Expanding Access to Eye Care and Healthy Vision Starts Locally

November 11: Just like a fingerprint, every person’s eyes are unique. And throughout our lifetimes, our eyes go on their own unique journey: whether a child needs their first pair of corrective eyeglasses to an older person being cured of their once-debilitating cataracts. At a young age, I was prescribed to spectacles. Initially, wearing these was a bit uncomfortable. Once I got used to it, it was as though I could distinguish the colors on the leaves of the tree. The quality of my life improved across all aspects. Carrying out various activities was easier compared to without glasses and I enjoyed my hobbies much more. I believe this experience to be similar to all those who wear prescription glasses.

The common thread? This precious gift of sight is something that should never be taken for granted. Eyes and healthy vision is an important conduits through which we experience and contribute to the world around us. And they are also an important part of our overall health. Visual impairment impacts people’s well-being and lifestyle, and their ability to provide and care for their families and themselves. Globally, vision impairment and blindness result in an estimated $410.7 billion due to productivity loss and overall monthly earnings and employment rates for people with impaired vision tend to be lower.

The stark truth is: Our eyes are not always the priority when it comes to our health. And not everyone has access to the resources and treatment they need to keep their eyes healthy over a lifetime. Globally, more than 1.1 billion people are living with uncorrected vision impairments, but 90 percent of global vision loss is also treatable or preventable. This reveals a clear directive: We must expand access to eye care and lifelong healthy vision by driving increased access in all corners of the world – and that starts locally.

World Sight Day – and the theme of #LoveYourEyes – offers an important opportunity for people to prioritize their eye health, and that of their communities. Because loving our eyes means helping to ensure that the precious gift of sight and healthy vision is for everyone.

Global eye care challenges demand community-driven solutions

Ensuring local access to eye care is incredibly important, especially when considering how untreated vision impairment due to the lack of awareness can have economic implications for individuals and their families as well as more broadly in society. In India, single earning members in the family are quite commonly found. When the only earning member loses their eyesight to cataract, it impacts the daily lives of those dependent on them. Most of the times, it is the lack of awareness that is to be blamed for the rise in cataract cases.

What’s more? 90 percent of people with vision impairment are individuals who live in low to middle-income countries. Vision impairment is also shown to have greater prevalence among people in remote areas, women, the elderly, people with other disabilities, and ethnic minorities. This is compounded by the fact that age-related eye conditions—such as cataracts or macular degeneration—are only set to increase as the global population ages.

Solutions to these global challenges must start locally, and we must deeply understand and address the nuances of delivering eye care in each community. To help, Alcon provides monetary, product and equipment donations and expertise to eligible non-profit partners to help ensure the continuity of eye care in local communities. Through the Alcon Foundation and Alcon Cares, donations totaled more than $15 million in 2021, and we used that money to support organizations such as the International Eye Foundation, which is strengthening eye systems in India through its Hospital Recovery program, and VisionSpring, which is providing affordable, quality eyeglasses to people worldwide.

But we don’t stop there. In 2021, we supported 73 medical missions, providing more than 11,000 surgeries and treating more than 40,000 patients. This is included in the more than 750 medical missions we’ve completed over the last three years, helping deliver eye care to places that need it most.

Partnership paves the way to increased access in all corners of the world

Our commitment to driving results at the local level has culminated in a bold commitment: By 2025, Alcon will work with our partners through philanthropic support and training programs to help improve vision for 5 million people afflicted with untreated cataracts in low- and middle-income countries, including 1 million considered cataract-blind.

But we know no single organization can solve global eye care challenges alone. Partnership is the cornerstone to making a real impact, for real people.

Together with our partners, we are expanding access to eye care globally to fulfill unmet needs where they exist. A priority is enhancing the skills of eye care teams in areas with the greatest need. As one example, through our partnership with Orbis International’s Flying Eye Hospital, we helped train more than 680 Eye Care Professionals (ECPs) who performed 3.6 million eye screenings and examinations and 38,000 surgeries in 2021.  In India, we set up an eye-screening camp in Bangalore, at two orphanages. Here over 100 students were screened and checked for any ailments in the eyes. It was identified that many students displayed symptoms of short-sightedness. The students were then provided with corrective glasses, to help them see well. Over the years of providing eye screening to school children, we believe it is one of the most successful ways of providing quality eye-care to the ones in need.

Continuing eye care access through ECP education

Every community looks different. However, no matter where you are, building local eye care capabilities through training helps deliver sustained access to eye care.

We provide world-class training for ECPs at our Alcon Experience Centers, with 10 locations around the world. That training helps enhance eye care systems, increasing the overall capacity for eye-related procedures, including phacoemulsification (phaco) surgeries, the standard of care for cataract surgery.

For instance, through the Alcon Phaco Development (PD) program, we’ve empowered more surgeons to provide sustainable access to phaco procedures. Since the program’s inception in 2008, more than 5,000 surgeons around the world have been trained and gone on to perform more than 7 million sight-enhancing or restoring phaco procedures for patients.

In 2021, as part of Alcon’s Project 100, we donated 34 phaco machines and trained 126 doctors and surgeons in this key cataract removal procedure in India alone.

Alcon’s purpose is to help people see brilliantly – no matter who they are or where they live. This World Sight Day, we encourage everyone to remember the precious gift that is sight. Take ownership of your eyes and help others in your community to do the same by making sure you and your loved ones get regular eye exams. In most cases cataract, can be removed with a procedure less that of 30 mins. Post-surgery one can head home and get back to normal life, with almost no dependency on glasses. So, don’t just ignore problems in your vision, get them rectified immediately. Consult your nearest surgeon for the best option.

 [Amar Vyas, is the Country Franchise Head, of the Surgical division at Alcon India. He has been associated with Alcon for 21 years. Amar is an experienced National Sales Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the medical device industry. Additionally, he is skilled in Sales, Medical Devices, Sales Operations, Sales Management, and Cross-functional Team Leadership.]

-Amar Vyas

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