No More Avoidable Blindness – World Sight Day 2014

9 October, 2014 - Steph Gaut

As World Sight Day comes around again, we’re getting into the spirit of things by saying “No more Avoidable Blindness.”

That’s the 2014 call to action from the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, together with the World Health Organisation.

This theme draws attention to key interventions that are crucial to the success of one of the universal eye health targets – a reduction in avoidable blindness by 25% by 2019.

Global statistics suggest that in places like Ethiopia, up to 80% of vision impairment and related eye health issues are preventable or treatable.

At CBM, we know that cataract is the world’s leading cause of blindness. And we also know that it’s one of the most easily treatable forms of blindness. That’s why we work in the poorest places to restore the gift of sight through cataract surgery.

There’s more to universal eye health than just treatment – so we’re working to prevent avoidable blindness too, by making sure communities have access to much-needed medication and hygiene strategies that can help prevent blindness-causing diseases such as Trachoma or River Blindness.

But what about the remaining 20% of people who live with untreatable blindness or vision impairment? This is where we focus on disability-inclusive eye health – working with other disability organisations, governments and local partners to promote disability-inclusive access, good quality outcomes and a long-term improvement in the quality of life for people living with vision impairment.

Often, people with disabilities miss out on accessing essential eye health services, because of a variety of barriers such as physical barriers and negative attitudes. But by encouraging eye services to consider disability inclusion, we’re ensuring that even the most marginalised can have access to critical eye health treatment and services to help end the cycle of poverty and disability.

A cycle of poverty and disability exists – and it affects millions of people around the world. Nearly 80% of all people with disability live in developing countries, where they are more likely to live in poverty as they are often excluded from education and employment opportunities, have poorer access to quality health care and often cannot access rehabilitation services.

On the other hand, people living in poverty are more likely to acquire a disability due to lack of quality healthcare, water and sanitation or unsafe work practices. Simple strategies to ensure people with disability are included in healthcare programs can have a huge impact in helping to break the cycle of poverty and disability.

Hadiya has her eyes examined as part of CBM’s work in Ethiopia to prevent avoidable blindness.


Hadiya’s story:

Nine-year-old Hadiya used to shield her eyes, desperately trying to soothe the burning pain of Trachoma. And every day she was slowly, painfully heading towards irreversible blindness. Thankfully, antibiotics is a proven strategy for fighting the active trachoma infection, and keeping a child safe from trachoma.

Together with our supporters, CBM was able to get the vital antibiotics to Hadiya’s village in Ethiopia in time, stopping the Trachoma infection in its tracks and preventing a lifetime of pain and blindness.

Now, Hadiya, and other children just like her, have a brighter future ahead!

You can find out more about what CBM is doing to promote inclusive eye health at

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International Week of the Deaf – Strengthening Human Diversity

23 September, 2014 - Philip Waters

For the International Week of the Deaf 2014, one of our amazing Programme Officers, Philip Waters, talks about diversity at the workplace among deaf communities around the world.


Inclusion at CBM

This image shows Philip Waters smiling at the camera

Philip Waters during a project visit in Luzhou, China in September 2013

©Susan Emerson

I am a Program Officer of Philippines, Indonesia and China for CBM in Australia. CBM Australia is very supportive by providing sign language interpreters both in the office and to accompany me when I travel. We also have annual deaf awareness training with some Australian Sign Language lessons.
Internationally, there are at least 5 deaf and hard of hearing staff working for CBM with various roles such as a Senior Technical Advisor, Assistant Officer for Inclusive Development, Project Coordination Manager and Administrative Officer.


Restrictive attitudes must change
Human diversity of peoples around the world is mirrored by the diversity within the deaf community. Deaf people have a diverse range of employments just like everyone else. Common perceptions around the world exists that without speech, it is not possible for deaf people to be educated or have meaningful employment. Many societies believe deaf men can only do physical labour or trades such as carpentry or motor repairs. As for deaf women, jobs are limited to painting, drawing or sewing. These attitudes can be very restrictive and place a barrier to achieving a greater range of human diversity.


 This image shows Philip Waters with other CBM staff and partner staff in Xinjiang, China in September 2013.

Right to meaningful employment
Article 27 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities relates to the rights of deaf people to meaningful employment, which also includes access to training and workplace modifications to enable deaf people to work. Additionally the International Labour Organization has also set standards for people with disabilities and employment.
In fact, deaf people can and do a wide range of jobs. Listed are examples of jobs deaf people exercise with an example of a well-known deaf person:
  • Dentist – Dr Steven Rattner
  • Sky diver – John Woo
  • Actress – Marlee Matlin
  • University President – Dr Robert Davila
  • Head Chef at JW Marriot in China – Sean Han
  • Lawyer – Rebecca Adam
  • EU Member of Parliament – The Hon Dr Adam Kosa
  • Emergency Services – Andrew Welshe
  • Philosopher – Dr Teresa Blankmeyer Burke
  • US Army Cadet – Private Pete Nolan
  • Street Performer – Tie Feng
  • Olympian – Dean Barton-Smith
  • Journalist – Dawn Jani Birley
  • Film maker – Samuel Dore
  • Regional Policy and Campaigns Manager – Washington Opiyo
And the list goes on. All of these people are deaf and use sign language as their first language. By removing barriers in education and employment, deaf people have shown they can and do anything.
Kentalis International in association with CBM has recently launched a videofeaturing deaf role models in Kenya. Successful deaf professionals share their stories about how they achieved their goals. Have a look!


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Why I love Miracles Day

28 August, 2014 - Stevie Wills

Miracles Day is an exciting day on the calendar for us at CBM Australia. It’s a day where we can work with generous Australians to transform lives! It’s a day where the means is provided for operations for people with cataracts to restore their sight. Operations that are provided for people who live in developing countries, who otherwise couldn’t receive the sight-restoring surgery.

The transformation doesn’t end there! People who are blind, can face many barriers. These barriers are most dense in developing countries, often excluding people from participating in education, employment and community life. Barriers can be physical, including a lack of access, resources and medical care. There can also be social barriers, such as stigma, and a lack of knowledge and awareness within communities.

A cataract operation can allow people to integrate into school, work, and their communities, thus completely transform their lives!

In developing countries, not only people who are blind face barriers to participating in life, but so do people with all kinds of disabilities.

I have cerebral palsy. I have grown up with the opportunities I needed to complete mainstream primary, secondary and tertiary education. I’m now employed with CBM Australia as a Community Education Officer. I’ve been enabled to reach my potential. I want all people with disabilities to have the opportunities they need to reach their potential too. CBM works with partners to enable people with disabilities who live in developing countries to reach their potential. That’s why I love CBM, and I’m excited about Miracles Day.

We would love you to join us in transforming lives! For $32 you can provide for a sight-restoring operation for someone with cataracts. You can help us to change lives! You can give somebody else the opportunities they need to reach their potential.

To donate; please call 131 226, or go to

Thank you!

Together we can restore sight!!

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Twin-track approach to inclusive eye health in Pakistan

13 August, 2014 - CBM Australia

According to the new World Health Organisation (WHO) action plan, adopted in May by the World Health Assembly, people with disabilities should have access to all health services offered to the general population.

Last year, CBM updated and launched a ‘how-to’ guide on inclusive eye health, providing comprehensive guidance to eye care service providers to ensure that all people with disabilities can access adequate eye care services. We speak here with Dr Babar Quereshi, a medical adviser for CBM’s Eastern Mediterranean Region, about how CBM is working on inclusive eye health with partners in Pakistan.

A CBM inclusive eye health program in Pakistan.


CBM is working hard in Pakistan to spearhead inclusive access to eye health care. How have you been doing this? 

“We’ve been working with CBM partners and discussing inclusive eye health. We held partner workshops where our manual, Inclusion made easy in eye health programs, was discussed to ensure that our partners begin to implement inclusive practices in their projects and programmes. Implementation is going to be in phases and every year our partners will report their progress.”


How long will it be until changes are seen in practice?

“Since the first version of the manual was launched one or two partners have started to implement it. We’ve seen changes in physical access made to buildings and healthcare workers being trained in sign language. But it is too early to see big changes. We’ll probably see results coming over the next five years. Though of course some partners will implement things faster than others, it’s not a fast-track process.”


What about where CBM hasn’t got partners?

“We’ve been addressing inclusive eye health from two perspectives and the second part of our strategy has been to go to Pakistan’s national eye care programme. With our partners, we can only have limited reach. With the national programme we can implement in every single district of Pakistan. Government works slowly, but the infrastructure and reach is much bigger and so the impact will also be much greater and sustainable.”


How did you set about such an ambitious task?

“We went to a lot of advocacy meetings and made a lot of presentations with policy makers and the national committee on eye health – the Ministry of Health’s top policy body on eye care. Pakistan’s national eye care programme has been in operation for more than 20 years and every district of that country now has a state-of-the-art eye care programme. We said, ‘The essentials of the eye care programme are there, but what you need to do next is to make it inclusive for people with disabilities.’ ”


How open were policy makers to what you had to say?

“There was resistance but this wasn’t because people wanted to resist becoming inclusive, but because people weren’t clear what inclusion meant. They thought, ‘Are we now going to be looking after people with physical disabilities? Are we going to be doing hearing care?’ We had to explain that that wasn’t the idea. We had to say, ‘You are still involved with eye care, but we want people with disabilities to be able to access your services too.’

“Then it was like a curtain lifting off their eyes – ‘Oh that’s what’s meant by inclusion of other people with disabilities in eye care.’ It was about breaking what we want to see down into simpler, understandable pieces.

“The national committee has now appointed a task force to recommend to government the steps that need to be taken at all districts in Pakistan to make eye health inclusive, as well as to consider the cost.”


So what are the next steps in Pakistan?

“The next important challenge is considering who is going to actually put the recommendations in the manual into practice. For the partners it’s easier. They can look at their workplace and think of what they need to do and how they’re going to do it. For the national eye plan it’s about how they’re going to operationalise the whole programme.

I’ve been asked to work with the task force to break it down into small, achievable steps so implementation doesn’t become a monumental task. CBM can play an instrumental role in providing successful models of inclusive eye health in one or two districts.”


Are there any successful models you can point to at the moment in Pakistan?

“When the primary healthcare initiatives (PHIs) to reconstruct the flood-hit areas in the Union Councils of Charsadda,  Abazai, Bakook, Hassan Zai and Shack No 6. were launched after the severe flooding in the summer of 2010, we set about trying to make the PHIs inclusive. That was a good experience and people were very engaged, very motivated. We’ve since seen a massive influx of patients, and access to eye health by people with disabilities has improved by 200%-250%.”


What are the main challenges in implementing inclusive eye health programmes?

“Changing the mindsets of people about disability is the biggest difficulty – at a project, programme, national and policy levels. That’s what takes a lot of time and it shouldn’t be underestimated.

Just by having a workshop or sending people a manual doesn’t mean things will change. There has to be continuous reinforcement of the ideas so they begin to register people with disabilities as individuals, they need to consider when planning and implementing. There needs to be continuous advocacy, continuous mentoring.”


What’s next after Pakistan?

“We’ll be slowly taking the inclusive eye health programme out to other countries. Later this year we’ll carry out a similar exercise for the Middle East region. The whole region is aware of inclusive eye health care and the manual has already had good exposure there. It’s just a matter of closer follow-up in the implementation and facilitating understanding where it’s needed.”


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The right to a full life of faith

15 July, 2014 - Steph Gaut

I’m not sure why I was so taken aback – after all, the conference was labelled ‘Honest Conversations.’ But as I sat and listened, I realised I still have so much to learn about the value of inclusion…

CBM’s Luke14 Honest Conversations conference took place in Melbourne on July 10 and 11. Over two days, more than 100 delegates were propelled into a world of challenging truths and sometimes-confronting situations that encouraged people to share intimate thoughts and feelings about the current state of disability inclusion in Australia’s church communities.

In his opening address, guest speaker Jeff McNair highlighted the ways in which Christian communities often overlooked people with disabilities as valuable and valued participants.

Integration, Jeff championed, was “absolutely critical” to any kind of disability ministry or program – and you “better have a doggone good reason as to why you’re not fully including people if you’re not!”

Jeff McNair speaks passionately about disability and the church at Luke14′s Honest Conversations conference.


I could feel people shifting uncomfortably in their seats – I know I was. Our church absolutely includes people with disabilities! I was feeling silently indignant. We have programs for people with disabilities don’t we? And I’m sure other people here have special programs too that cater specially for people with disabilities.

It was almost as if Jeff had read my mind. Because he continued: “Many ministries are designed, to a lesser or greater degree, to be segregated. These ministries range from churches for people with a disability where those without a disability work within the ‘disabled church’ to serve to segregated ministries, and to programs experiencing varying degrees of separation. But for the church to be the Church, we must acknowledge that segregated ministries send the wrong message.”


Dr Shane Clifton guest spoke at the Honest Conversations conference about his life-changing experiences with acquired disability, and the importance of emotional and spiritual wellbeing.


It was a powerful message: that true inclusion occurs only when people with disabilities receive the same opportunities and experiences as people without disabilities.

The conversations flowed freely over the two-day conference; people were sharing their deepest and most intimate thoughts, sharing experiences of exclusion and how it made them personally feel, and bonding and learning through some incredible panel discussions and workshops designed to enhance your understanding of disability experience in the church.


Conference delegates learnt about different types of disabilities and the importance of an all-accessible church community.


Among new-found friends and some fabulous food, I realised that inclusion was about more than just ‘ticking the boxes’. People with disabilities have rights to worship, study the Word and serve others in whichever faith community they choose to do so with full access to and support from their wider community.

Here’s looking to more Honest Conversations next year!

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