Underpinning the possibility of pursuing new livelihoods, education and participation within a community, is good health and wellbeing. To facilitate better health, Symbiosis International focuses on eye care, safe drinking water, promotion of sanitation, maternal health, child growth monitoring, and disability support.
Sustainable development is not possible without improving access to better healthcare. We partner with a number of organisations and employ skilled health care workers to carry out these services. Our focus is on building awareness and engagement with our programs, introducing people to referral pathways and undertaking training and education so communities can work together and connect themselves and others to the care they need.
Primary Eye Health Service
The Symbiosis Primary Eye Care Service (SPECS) has been working to improve eye health outcomes in Bangladesh since 2006.
Symbiosis's aim is to improve eye health throughout project working areas, particularly for people living in remote and
rural locations where there is little access to eye care.
SPECS aims to to reduce the prevalence of low vision, refractive error and eye health problems such that poor
and marginalised women, men and children are not disadvantaged in their efforts to access education and overcome poverty.
Eye Health and Education
A key aspect of the project is preventative health, with eye health lessons provided to around 5,000 Symbiosis group members each year. From these groups, 200 group members will be selectred and trained to become eye health educators so that they will be able to function as skilled eye health promoter in their areas.
Through clinics in Modhupur, Birtara, Gazipur, Haluaghat, Dohar, Madarganj and Mymensingh as well as mobile services, around 13,000 people have their eyes tested each year. Where needed, low-cost spectacles are provided, with simple lens grinding and fitting by SPECS staff.
SPECS also visits primary schools, screening the vision of around 11,000 children annually. Children requiring further treatment are referred to either a SPECS clinic or an eye hospital. Selected teachers are also invited to training sessions, where they are taught about common eye conditions , how to measure vision and referral pathways.
In June 2019 the first of two new Vision Centres opened in the town of Haluaghat in northern Bangladesh and in August 2020 the second vision center opened
in Teghoria village, Madarganj. These centres are being established in partnership with Operation Eyesight and will be the first of their kind in Bangladesh.
The new Visions Centres will provide comprehensive eye testing for all patients. This ensures they are not only treated for the problem they initially present with, but their overall eye health is checked and any significant issues identified. Treatment can then either be provided directly, or patients referred to a regional eye hospital.
The Long-term the goal is for these centres to become financially self-sustainable, utilising income from fee-paying patients to supplement low-cost services to the poor.
Cataract Eye Camps
In Bangladesh, as in other developing countries, the leading cause of preventable blindness is cataract. In addition to the other activities of the project, the team oversees the delivery of Symbiosis’ long-running cataract treatment program.
In partnership with ophthalmologists from the Mymensingh BNSB eye hospital, the mobile team organises Village Vision projects in remote rural areas. These provide eye check-ups to more than 1000 people annually, making referrals where necessary and identifying people with bilateral blindness due to cataract.
Following the screening day, staff arrange transport for the cataract patients to and from the eye hospital where their cataracts are removed. In this way around 100 people per year are provided with sight-restoring surgery.
Maternal and Child Health Services
In Bangladesh, many women give birth at home without the assistance of trained health personnel. Sometimes, particularly in rural areas, there will be little help available and often they will receive the assistance of Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs). TBAs are courageous women who for usually little or no payment at all, take on the role of supervising births in their local community. They learn their skills from each other and those who have passed on experience. Unfortunately, sometimes their skill level is not enough, as well-meaning actions cannot always support difficult birthing.
In support of the Bangladesh Government’s commitment to reducing maternal and infant mortality, Symbiosis International has invested in helping to train Skilled Birth Attendants. In northern Upazilas of Mymensingh District, Symbiosis International has also employed Midwives to train TBAs in the care of the Mothers and Babies. This training covers scenarios of before birth, during and after delivery, improving safety and reducing birth complications.
The midwives who provide the training focus on risk management, helping TBAs to pre-empt emergencies and to recognise situations that require referral to a hospital before they become life-and-death situations.
Arsenic Mitigation and Sanitation Program
Arsenic contamination is a common problem in parts of Bangladesh. Symbiosis is helping to provide safe water to families through education, testing tube wells, and providing water filters to affected families. Our records show Symbiosis staff have tested over 12,000 tube wells, ensuring an estimated 242,000 people in Bangladesh have arsenic-free water. Arsenic Mitigation continues to be integrated into our community development projects to ensure people remain free of arsenic poisoning and its ongoing side effects.
Symbiosis International also supplements its safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation education work with the provision and installation of sanitary latrines. These latrines give private, secure and sanitary toileting system for not just one family but usually many people in a community to use and benefit from.
Disability Inclusion and Support
We recognise that the challenge of poverty is intensified for many people with a disability. Following our significant focus and positive community feedback from Symbiosis Primary Eye Care services, we are currently expanding our disability support to work with Families and with children diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Support provided includes regular child health assessments and if required provision of assistive aids (i.e. braces and wheelchairs) or in some cases referral to a higher degree of medical care. As with all projects, we value the opportunity of our field workers to sit and discuss these issues through community education and awareness sessions and are committed to continually learning how we can work together to drive inclusive approaches to development for the whole community.