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Women miss out on eye care due to household responsibilities, study shows

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Women in low and middle-income countries face deeply held cultural norms that prevent them from safely accessing vital eye care services, a study conducted by the Tilganga Institute of Opthalmology in Nepal and the Fred Hollows Foundation found.

Called the Nepal Gender Pragmatic Trial (NGPT), the program aimed to encourage rural Nepali women to get their eyes screened by introducing several incentives for women to safely access eye care services, which would restore sight and prevent vision loss.

The NGPT found that providing a travel subsidy in combination with delivering awareness-raising activities and adjustments to eye care significantly increased women’s uptake of services at rural eye care facilities.

Currently, 55 percent of the world’s blind are women. Women are eight percent more likely to be blind than men and 15 percent more likely to have the most severe forms of vision impairment.

The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Research Director Dr Sarity Dodson said that deeply held cultural norms remain powerful barriers to achieving equity in eye health outcomes.

“A significant proportion of women reported that regardless of subsidies or improvements in the way we deliver eye care, expectations of them to manage household duties often prevail, preventing them from participating in care that takes them away from home for several days such as cataract surgery,” Dr Dodson said.

Dodson also remarked that even the pandemic had a disparate effect on women.

“COVID-19 was a gendered pandemic. While men are more likely to die, additional burdens have been placed on women who have had most of the responsibility for care giving, both at home, and in the wider health sector,” Dodson said.

“Fred Hollows once said, ‘inequity diminishes us all’. Overcoming deeply held cultural norms is the biggest challenge of our time but will be key to unlocking women’s access to eye care, other health services and participating in broader society,” she said.

The Foundation is taking forward the study’s results to inform a new 5-year strategy for eye care work in Nepal and other low and middle-income countries.

The Gender Equity Program Trail was fully funded by the Australian DFAT under the Australian NGO Cooperation Program.

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