A Standard Chartered initiative is transforming eye health care across The Commonwealth
By Mike Cowley
George had a good life in his rural Zambian village. He made a living, like most of his peers, as a farmer which provided enough money for him to feed his wife and family. The area where George and his family lived was, like much of rural Zambia, quite poor, with little access to health services.
Things started to deteriorate dramatically when he began to lose the sight in both eyes at the same time. Unable to see, he could no longer earn money working his land. Not being able to put food on the family table proved to be a source of conflict with his wife. Sadly, this resulted in the breakdown of his marriage.
Without his wife’s eyes to see for him, George was unable to find even food for himself – a crisis was turning into a life-threatening disaster.
Then a glimpse of hope. Listening to his radio, he heard a team of eye health personnel from his district were carrying out examinations at a health centre just two kilometres away from his home. His brother took him there and he was diagnosed with operable cataracts.
Staff reassured George his sight could be restored with surgery and booked him in. Despite warnings from peers in his village that “it would be the end of his eyes and he would never be able to see again” George made the decision to go ahead.
Today George is back farming, rebuilding his future, and is living testimony to the success of Seeing is Believing, Standard Chartered Bank’s flagship global initiative to treat avoidable blindness and visual impairment. Seeing is Believing improved eye health services in George’s remote rural community, equipping the district’s hospital with screening equipment, running regular eye camps for cataract diagnosis and surgery, and raising awareness of the new services through, among other things, the radio.
Standard Chartered, founded in London in 1853, serves close to half of The Commonwealth family of countries, most of whom fall into the category of emerging markets. And its emphasis on sustainability is the overarching theme of the Business Forum run by The Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council – of which the Bank is a main sponsor – with its focus on economic empowerment and inclusion.
Avoidable blindness is a key health issue across Standard Chartered’s footprint. Globally, there are an estimated 36 million blind people and a further 217 million people suffering from moderate or severe visual impairment. Eighty per cent of all visual impairment can be prevented or cured. Visual impairment diminishes an individual’s quality of life and negatively impacts economic growth. It often prevents individuals from attending school, entering the workforce, or staying in work.
Launched in 2003 as part of the Bank’s 150th anniversary celebrations, Seeing is Believing started as a staff-driven plan to raise enough money for 28,000 sight restoration surgeries – one for every member of staff at the time. Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, it has now grown into an international campaign that continues to be supported by employees, and has also gained the support of clients, business partners and the wider community.
Today, Seeing is Believing is a collaboration between Standard Chartered, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and leading international eye health organisations. Its aim is to raise US$100 million by 2020 through fundraising and fund-matching by the Bank to provide a range of eye health interventions. By funding projects implemented by international eye health organisations, Seeing is Believing provides access to affordable and quality eye health services to people in lower income countries. As eye health is a critical component of health care, Seeing is Believing’s work also improves health systems and infrastructure by building eye health capacity.
Seeing is Believing funds projects that align with the World Health Organisation’s Global Action Plan on eye health. Current projects focus on providing comprehensive eye-care in low and middle-income countries and tackling childhood blindness in East Africa, Nigeria and India. Applying innovative thinking to the prevention and treatment of avoidable blindness has also been an important aspect of the programme’s approach.
In 2013, as part of the US$100 million target, an Innovation Fund was launched to support pioneering ideas that have the potential to significantly advance the way eye health is delivered.
As at December 2017, the fund had invested US$3.89 million in 23 projects including developing smart phone technology to enable eye screening in remote locations in Kenya and India; setting up high quality online training on diabetic retinopathy screening and laser treatment in Africa and Asia; and manufacturing realistic eye models to enable trichiasis surgical training in Tanzania.
In March, the Bank extended its commitment to innovative approaches to eye health by pledging to support the development of the proposed US$1 billion Vision Catalyst Fund, a multi-stakeholder initiative to bring eye care to all people in The Commonwealth and around the world.
Standard Chartered and IAPB’s long-term collaboration has delivered remarkable results over the years. Between 2003 and 2017, Seeing is Believing raised US$98.4 million and reached 163.5 million people through medical intervention, screening, training and education. It screened 28 million people for visual impairment, performed 4.1 million cataract operations and eye surgeries, dispensed 1.1 million pairs of spectacles and low vision devices, educated 121 million people on eye health and trained 294,500 health workers. It has implemented 167 eye health projects in 37 countries.
For George, the results are clear. He describes what Seeing is Believing has meant to him as “a miracle”.
Girls achieve a Commonwealth Goal
Standard Chartered is set to score another sustainability goal. It empowers girls and young women through sport and life-skills training, reflecting the bank’s belief that education is the foundation for economic opportunity.
Known as Goal, the programme involves educating girls in emerging nations to provide them with the tools to shape their own future. This has a multiplier effect on communities and societies. More educated girls are healthier, as are their children, who are then more likely to attend school and study.
Launched in 2006 as a pilot in Delhi, India, Goal reached just 70 girls in its first year. In 2017, more than 95,000 girls and young women participated in Goal, and the programme reached more than 381,000 girls between 2006 and 2017.
The aim is to reach 600,000 girls between 2006 and 2020.
The programme is currently active in 14 Commonwealth countries – Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, The Gambia, Uganda, the UK and Zambia – and will start in Tanzania in 2018.
The programme targets girls and young women aged 12 to 20 in urban areas from low-income families. It uses sport or play-based games for active learning, and is based around four training modules focusing on financial education, communication, health and hygiene, and confidence and life skills.