In 2013, OneSight launched an experiment in partnership with the government of The Gambia: to build the infrastructure that would allow all Gambians to have the ability to get an eye exam and a pair of glasses if and when they need them. Prior to working together, there was only one optometrist in the entire country.
In July 2019, that experiment concluded with the transfer of 7 vision centers, 1 manufacturing facility, 84 newly created jobs, and 6 years of experience and learning. So, what’s happened since that transition?
One of the big goals of this type of programming is to create a vision care system that is self-reliant financially while still being affordable for the communities served. And in the first year of operation, this continues to be proven out with a 38% increase in traffic to vision centers and a 17% increase in glasses sold since the previous year. Marketing efforts are underway to help drive awareness of these centers and the services they offer, so we expect to see further growth in the years to come.
The first year of independence also had some learning opportunities as well. As with most countries, Internet access is uneven across The Gambia. Vision centers use cloud-based computing to handle operations, so having stable, cost-effective connections is important and the team is always looking for ways to make it more efficient and effective.
Also, the team is focused on on making sure that IT investments are cost effective as well, replacing more expensive laptops with iPads in places where it makes sense to do so.
Seeing it forward
Another key goal for our sustainable programming is to build expertise locally. Then those experts help train others both in their own country as well as nearby countries who are setting up sustainable vision care programming through OneSight. Here’s how Satou Sisay, one of the optometry technicians at the Bwiam hospital vision center in The Gambia, sums up his experience transferring knowledge in Rwanda:
“During a March sustainable vision center launch in Rwanda, I was involved in a training path with three other ODs, where we trained 6 Rwandan vision center employees on how to do a standard refraction, triage and dispensing. The trainees were amazing as they were quick learners. Rwanda is indeed Rwonderful! I don’t have enough words for the hospitality the Rwandans offered!”
Gambia Vision Center
The whole goal is to create locally-owned, operated and self-sufficient vision care through our sustainable programming. But it also means an ongoing relationship with OneSight working in a consultative capacity to help troubleshoot problems as they arise and offer advice on how to continue to improve. It’s a two-way street where we learn just as much as our partners do—a journey we are proud and excited to be on.
Late in 2020 or early in 2021, Rwanda will be the next country to have full vision care access. We’ll keep you posted on progress there!
Want to help more countries get full access to vision care? You can make it happen with a donation.