Recently, I spent some quality social-distancing time in the mountains of Colorado. Driving along winding roads, losing my GPS signal, and often missing turns became laughable.
Yet, as I write today, I realize this is exactly how the world feels right now. We move ahead a few steps only to be told to turn back around or to have our direction altered. A global pandemic has a way of affecting our normal navigation systems, but if we stay true to our calling – our mission – our North Star will always remain in view.
For those of us advocating for change and tackling the challenge of good vision for the world, it might seem that our North Star has been shrouded by something shinier and more pressing. And, while a worldwide pandemic has undoubtedly affected the world’s priorities, it has not reduced the need for vision care for the 7.7 billion people in the world.
In a recent Devex article, Michael Jarvis, Executive Director of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, a collaborative of leading funders focused on empowering citizens and holding governments to account, was quoted as saying, “We all need to adapt, but we don’t all need to become about the pandemic.” As vision advocates, we have a responsibility to continue with our mandate to ensure that people can see well while also being mindful of the current state of the world.
BUT HOW DO WE NAVIGATE IN THE CURRENT UNKNOWN TERRITORY?
First, we must be willing to adapt. Our tried and true ways of providing vision care have not changed, but other complementary methods and processes may inevitably make them better, more efficient, or even more sustainable in the future. As an example, tele-optometry has given the current eyecare field a way to remain relevant and hopeful.
A recent article suggests, “In the last two months, all of a sudden, everyone has been forced to do virtual visits for patient care. And I think there’s going to be a paradigm shift in people’s comfort level with this,” said Dan Neely, senior medical adviser at the vision nonprofit Orbis International. “This is going to change what everyone does going forward.”
Patients have been seen and heard differently. Neely also said, “At first, we were all worried about trying to replicate what we do in the office during an exam. And I think we learned that you don’t do the same kind of thing. The exam becomes secondary. The conversation is 90% of the information you get, and you can make a lot of decisions based on just that conversation.”
Though globally there are challenges with tele-medicine due to internet access and in-language care, multiple organizations are already seeking solutions that will allow for a smoother transition and adoption of this practice. There’s something to be said for the adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Second, we must never stop learning. While we are still traveling new education paths, we know more than we did when this pandemic first began. Schools at all levels have traded classrooms for online learning. Around the world, universities educating our eye doctors of tomorrow and providing ongoing training to today’s eye care professionals are shifting their modes of teaching and learning.
People are hungry for connection and information, and organizations like CyberSight indicate that worldwide engagement with virtual training platforms has skyrocketed over the past three months.
Third, we must partner well with each other. If we have learned anything during this time, it’s that our partnerships are invaluable – from public and private sectors to NGOs and donors. From a healthy vision perspective, this could be coalitions of key players in our industry with like-minded goals. But we cannot overlook those who have successfully navigated similar scenarios outside our normal “circle of friends.”
In an article entitled, The End of Global Health Advocacy As We Know It, I was struck by this statement: “It is also time to move beyond the moral imperative or socioeconomic value of global health investments to a new framework and narrative emphasizing shared leadership, collaboration, and local ownership.”
As we continue advocating for the increased prioritization of vision health, we must be willing to share our key data and insights with each other to not only build a global agenda, but be prepared to address specific situations on a local level. Through partnerships and collaborations, we are empowered to reach people in every corner of the world.
In order to meet today’s challenges, we must remain committed to our mandate and our mission. More than 2.5 billion people still need to see clearly, and they are looking to us to be part of the solution.
Let’s continue Giving Vision a Voice!