Introduction of the organisation
Sightsavers, a UK-based international development organisation, has been working with partners in 33 countries in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean to eliminate avoidable blindness and fight for disability rights. Since 1973, Sightsavers has been working in Bangladesh and playing a significant role in the country’s eye health care services and social inclusion. We work in partnership with both government and non-government organisations to help establish and strengthen existing eye health services for all and promote disability inclusive development in areas of education and social inclusion.
Sightsavers’ vision is of a world where no one is blind from avoidable causes and where people with disabilities participate equally in society. And our mission is to prevent avoidable blindness and fight for disability rights.
Programmatic interventions in response to COVID-19
Sightsavers, in fact, is not an emergency humanitarian action based organisation. Our works rather focus on sustainable development in areas of eye health, social inclusion and education. However, considering the severe adversity of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Sightsavers has made a number of interventions in response of COVID-19 along with the traditional way of doing our activities. Some of the programmatic interventions Sightsavers has made in response to COVID-19 are as follows:
- First, Sightsavers had postponed all the outdoor activities of our all projects at the field level, much earlier than the government announced holiday from March 26, to pave the way for maintaining social/physical distancing among our field staffs, partners, and other relevant stakeholders. We all know how important social/physical distancing is to curb the spread of this deadly virus. Sightsavers has therefore put utmost importance in safeguarding the physical well being of the people we work with.
- Secondly, Sightsavers is the secretariat of Disability Alliance on SDGs Bangladesh, a network of 27 NGOs and INGOs working in the disability field. As the secretariat Sightsavers is closely working with the member organisations to implement the emergency response activities for the persons with disabilities. People with disabilities are being provided with both foods and cash in different parts of the country. Some advocacy activities engaging the relevant government organisations are being carried out and some will be accomplished in the coming days. Moreover, Disability Alliance on SDGs Bangladesh is currently conducting a study on situational analysis of the people with disabilities amid the ongoing pandemic.
- Sightsavers has continued extending our emergency eye health services through our partner hospitals maintaining high standard of safeguarding measures. This intervention of Sightsavers has helped many people restore their vision and get their necessary eye health services in the midst of these difficult times.
- Fourthly, Sightsavers closely works with persons with disabilities to fight for their rights. In this process, we work with Disability People’s Organisations (DPOs) to make them aware of their rights and enhance their skills so that they can find employment opportunities. Though our primary focus with the persons with disabilities is skills development and employment creation, for the past 6 weeks we have put an emphasis on raising awareness among the persons with disabilities about how to maintain hygiene and cleanliness and physical distancing to stay away from COVID-19. As part of our Behavioural Change Communication (BCC) strategy, we have continuously communicated with the persons with disabilities within our reach over the phone to make sure they follow the approach.
- Fifthly, Sightsavers has also conducted some advocacy work engaging the media to sensitise the policymakers about the inclusion of the persons with disabilities for the awareness activities being adopted by the government.
- Sightsavers has devised the contingency plan for the activities of all the projects postponed due to coronavirus pandemic. The purpose of the contingency plan is to learn from the ongoing pandemic and come up with effective plans for the beneficiaries in the future when the pandemic is over.
- Sightsavers is currently assessing the situation carefully and likely to come up with some emergency support for the persons with disabilities of the project districts.
Future outlook and recommendations
One thing is certain that coronavirus pandemic will leave huge impact to the whole world. We have already witnessed huge negative consequences such as 809 people have been infected with COVID-19 (Updated till April 13, 2020) and 39 people have died, many small and medium businesses are closing or falling down drastically, people are losing their jobs etc. However, Sightsavers thinks that once the coronavirus pandemic is somewhat under control or over, we will face two important challenges—in the context of Bangladesh—for which we all should prepare for some policy interventions involving the government, international development partners, private sector and others:
- The government of Bangladesh put an emphasis on the eye health services along with other diseases. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 is likely to cause a paradigm shift in the health services of the country. As Bangladesh like all other countries of the world including the most developed ones is struggling with providing health support to the growing number of persons infected with COVDI-19, there is a possibility that other health services of the country, especially the eye health services and non-communicable diseases, will not get a priority in the service delivery. Therefore, patients with eye health diseases and non-communicable diseases might face difficult challenge in getting adequate service for their health issues. Hence, we need to have policy interventions to mitigate this challenge which is likely to unfold in the coming days; and
- Persons with disabilities usually become the most affected ones when any disaster takes place as they belong to the most vulnerable group. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is not likely be to an exception. In the past decade, Bangladesh has made huge progress in mainstreaming the rights of the person with disabilities. Moreover, there has been some development in terms of creating employment opportunities for them. But such development may come to a halt after this pandemic. Since many non-disabled people have already lost their jobs, the persons with disabilities including even those who are skilled and educated are likely to face a huge challenge in the job market. Thus, the job market of Bangladesh which is already very tough will surely get tougher in terms of social inclusion. We would therefore need strong advocacy to mitigate this challenge.
See more of Sightsavers’ work in COVID-19 response
The link that shows the commitment of Sightsavers to respond to COVID-19 pandemic is as follows: