Inspired by Dr. Ben Gullison, a Canadian physician working in Sompeta on India’s east coast, Arthur Jenkyns, a Calgary businessman, founded Operation Eyesight Universal in 1963. Jenkyns marshalled the efforts of others and raised funds for people needing eye care in India.
Operation Eyesight developed into a partnership between generous Canadians and Indian eye doctors, and later expanded its scope to include regions of Africa and south Asia, as well as donors from other countries. From the beginning, the organization emphasized capacity building and sustainability by supplying local medical professionals with the training, equipment and facilities required to help their own people.
In the early 1960s, the emphasis of all eyesight-related international NGOs was on the large backlog of cataract cases in India and other developing nations. Operation Eyesight began by funding screening camps (ad hoc diagnostic clinics), cataract surgeries and training aimed at reducing the backlog. At this time, there were few performance measures beyond the number of cataract surgeries produced collectively by all participating hospitals and clinics.
In 1981, Operation Eyesight began to fund prevention programs, such as immunization, improved nutrition, health clinics, skills training and employment that would attack the root causes of poverty. These programs improved general health, thereby reducing the incidence of blindness in poor, marginalized communities.
By the late 1990s, research revealed that emphasis on the volume of cataract surgeries, rather than quality of surgical outcomes, had resulted in the failure of some 40 to 50 percent of cataract surgeries in India. Accordingly, cataract surgery came to be known as the second leading cause of blindness behind cataracts themselves.
As well, emphasis on cataracts had ignored other eye diseases, such as glaucoma, corneal trauma, trachoma and others, which were going undiagnosed and untreated. By the late 1990s, a model of high quality, comprehensive, sustainable eye care was developed in India under the LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVP) in Hyderabad, India.
LVP demonstrated that a reputation for quality outcomes attracted paying and non-paying patients. Fees from those who could afford the surgery covered the cost of those who could not. This model, which proved to be successful, also featured rigorous cost control and revenue generation from fees to cover annual operating (non-capital) costs.
Armed with this knowledge, Operation Eyesight transitioned from a charity or aid model to a development model. As such, Operation Eyesight works collaboratively with each of its medical partners to set objectives and develop a practical plan that will ultimately achieve quality, comprehensive, sustainable eye care services.
Today, Operation Eyesight is directly active in India and the African nations of Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia, investing in sustainable treatment, prevention and community development activities to address specific problems as well as the root causes of blindness.