A teacher couldn’t see the board at school. An older gentleman couldn’t cross the street safely. Both received glasses and referrals for further eye care through a new project from VisionSpring and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
VisionSpring launched the “Reading Glasses in Pharmacies Project” in the Ashanti Region of Ghana on Jan. 15, 2022, with funding and volunteers from the Church’s humanitarian arm, Latter-day Saint Charities.
“The project’s goal is to introduce eye care at a primary level, a retail pharmacy level” said Harry Ahimah, project leader for VisionSpring. “The pharmacy shop is the first point of call for many people.”
He explained that in Ghana, eye care is basically inaccessible to people in rural areas — it is often found at a higher level, such as an eye doctor’s office, clinic or hospital, many times with long queues or wait times. Now VisionSpring and Church volunteers are training local pharmacists to perform vision screenings, offer glasses and refer to eye clinics if necessary.
In two months since the launch, around 1,000 people have been screened at 29 outlets in Ghana. Three hundred people have received reading glasses, with 68% of them being first-time wearers.
“Without this project, these people would not have had their eyes screened,” said Ahimah. “To me it brings out the light of this project.”
And there were 23 referrals for further care and interventions, which Ahimah called heartwarming — because those people could have lost their sight. He said he is not sure they would have gone to the hospital if they didn’t get the referral from the pharmacist.
“They would just be sitting there thinking, ‘Eye care is expensive, it will take me a long time to get there, the queue to see the doctor is too long, if I can manage, why don’t I just manage.’ But getting information from this trusted individual, this gets through to them, and they follow through,” said Ahimah.
One of those referrals was 67-year-old Agya Yaw, who had cataracts and could only see a little out of one eye. He got his first pair of reading glasses from the pharmacy, and was referred to KNUST hospital. He is now scheduled for surgery, and Ahimah said VisionSpring will continue to follow up with him.
“The teacher, named Maxwell, had to move the book back, squint, and try to write on the board,” said Ahimah. “He was struggling to mark the students’ papers because of his poor eyesight. So when he came to the event and got glasses, he was so excited.”
Melissa Bromley, global communications manager with VisionSpring, said those two examples show exactly what this pilot project is all about — first, getting reading glasses into people’s hands at their pharmacies; second, making referrals for higher care and following through.
By the end of 2024, the program aims to partner with 200 pharmacies throughout the Ashanti Region.
Bromley said the Church funding and volunteers are making it possible for VisionSpring to pilot this approach. “We are hoping it will also be successful through other countries in Africa as well.”