Community Participation in Outreach Eye Care Services

R. Meenakshi Sundaram
Senior Manager Outreach
Aravind Eye Care System
Tel: 91-452-4356100, 172
Fax: 01-452-2530984

For every kind of social action, especially health care activities, community participation is a key factor in helping activists reach the right and needy people in the service area. Community participation bridges the gap between the service provider and beneficiaries. Aravind Eye Care System has been able to reach the base level of the community with crucial support from the community.

Outreach screening eye camp has been an integral part of Aravind since its inception. The hospital was started by a small core group of members with limited facilities. In the years 1976-1977 few screening camps had been conducted to diagnose eye problems and cataract patients had been referred to the base hospital for surgery. But it was found that the turnout of advised patients was very poor despite the enormous efforts and time put in organizing such camps. The reasons were varied; but the most common and important ones were lack of money for transportation to the hospital and back, food and no attendant to take them for surgery were most important barriers.

Dr. G. Venkataswamy, the founder of Aravind Eye Hospital, and his team had tried to seek financial support from any group of well wishers, philanthropists in the community to bear the cost of patients transport and food expenses. It was a great challenge to identify such people or organizations to support such an endeavor. But gradually the teams continuous efforts and quality of eye care provided ensured a regular stream of support.

Dr.V motivated a number of patients to conduct eye camps in their villages when they approached him with offers of help. Over the years, Dr.V and his team developed a very strong network of various social service organizations in the community not only to conduct screening eye camps but also outreach surgery camps. The surgeries were performed in a hospital, school, community hall or any similar spacious hall. The outreach activity were very much appreciated by the people and sponsors because of Dr.Vs structured way of organizing outreach programs and the quality of service, team spirit and dedication in service delivery- which stemmed from his self motivation, uncompromising stance on quality and vast experience during his tenure in government service.

The sponsors take care of the following arrangements:

  • Identification of location to conduct eye camps
  • Provision of support facilities like water, electricity, furniture, volunteers, etc.
  • Plan and implement various publicity methods to mobilize needy people
  • Take care of medical team in terms of their accommodation and food
  • Transport of patients who need surgery
  • Food for admitted patients during post operative stay
  • Cost of aphakic glasses
Aravinds eye camps are held with the partnership of a sponsor from the community. These sponsors are essential to the successful running of the camps and play a vital role in mobilizing community support. They act as a bridge between the hospital and the community.

Benefits of Collaboration
This kind of partnership creates mutual intangible benefits in terms of recognition in the community. Since the sponsors take ownership of the program, they are motivated to ensure that the service activity is most beneficial to the community. Even after the camp is conducted the sponsors are approached by people seeking assistance and guidance to get quality service; the hospital thus receives a number of walk-in patients regularly. Community participation calls for innovative communication tools to mobilize needy people; this is reflected in the high surgery and referral acceptance rate.

This collaboration helps to reduce the cost of organization and also helps the institution manage crisis. For example, a patient may refuse or leave the treatment midway because of a fear of surgery, or a patient may fall ill due to other factors which could even prove fatal. The camp sponsors provide support at such times to handle such situations This symbiotic relationship proves mutually beneficial for the patients, hospital and the sponsors.

International organizations like the Lions and Rotary Clubs serve the community all across the world. The Lions District Governor or District Chairman Sight First or District Chairman Eye Camps or a key person in each club is approached and the need to conduct eye camps is emphasized. (The Lions District Directory published every year provides a list of potential sponsors - almost every Lion member is aware of Sight First program and accepts the onus to help organize eye camps.) Once the camp is successfully organized achieving the expected result, with Aravinds guidance, the club makes this as a regular and permanent service activity.

Religious and Spiritual organizations are also take part in community eye care programs. Hindu Missions, Churches, Mosques and a number of community based spiritual organizations come forward to organize eye camps. Communication through the leaders of the organizations proves very effective in reaching the right segment of the population.

Educational institutions have a National Social Service (NSS) wing with student members. The NSS coordinator is approached either to conduct a camp in their target village or to extend its volunteer support for publicity, escorting and helping aged patients in the camps.

Womens welfare associations (Self Help Groups) are another source of communication to reach the community. Micro credit is their primary objective as is their involvement in several social development activities. These groups are a crucial support group for various government schemes because of their strong membership.

Youth organizations are formed by a group of students or youngsters in the villages to help people in different ways. They even plead in formal ways to various government departments for the welfare of the community. This vital resource can be approached to organize outreach eye camps with Aravind helping them to get financial support from other commercial groups to manage the camp organizing expenses.

Banks have a close relationship with the community and allot a portion of their revenue for social activities. Some banks have developed a forum called Social Circle to help the society. Many banks have adopted villages to facilitate various social service activities such as screening eye camps for the benefit of poor blind people in their service area.

Many industries have also approached Aravind to conduct eye check ups for their employees and their families. Some corporate organizations also come forward to conduct eye camps for their employees as well as the general public

We have come across a number of Charitable Trusts formed by individual families and community based NGOs who are motivated by the need to perform public service to organize eye camps.

General or specialty Hospitals or clinics also partner with Aravind to conduct eye camps to serve the poor and promote the services offered by them. This proves beneficial to all parties involved in the activity.

Co-operative societies formed by groups of weavers, farmers, dairy owners for their welfare also step forward to help their community by organizing such camps

Village Leaders Panchayat Presidents Traditional healers Teachers Philanthropists can influence the community to access the service offered for them.

Camp Organization
At Aravind, the Camp Organizer is a full time paid field worker who works closely with the different sponsors.

He ensures the successful conduct of the camp by motivating and guiding the camp sponsor through the process of fixing the date, place, venue, transportation arrangements for the community, the publicity campaign, food arrangements for the medical team and the community etc.

When a new camp organizer is recruited he learns the ropes by accompanying an experienced camp organizer through the entire process. Based on his capacity and experience each organizer is allotted one or two districts with a population of two to three million wherein he is to conduct a specific number of camps to achieve a preset target.