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How Vision-Aid is serving visually impaired children during COVID-19?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team at the Vision-Aid Resource Center at Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai has started online therapy session for children with special needs. Since In-hospital visits pose a significant risk of infection, and considering the vulnerable immune system of these children the Aravind team had to stop office-based therapy for such patients until conditions improve.

After the initial onset of the pandemic, and services had to be stopped abruptly, the team found that stopping services to the kids led to regression in vision and overall development in many young children who would normally have received in-hospital services. This raised apprehension among parents who began to request the Aravind team to find some way to help their affected children.

In response, the Aravind team started rolling out plans to virtually serve these children through the Zoom platform. However, when they tried to connect and run sessions with Zoom, it was very difficult since many parents were unable to connect via Zoom due to unfamilarity with the platform and often lacking the bandwidth/connectivity needed. Mothers found it difficult to hold the children and also understand and carryout the instruction given by the special educators remotely over zoom.

Many a times the special educators were not able to see the child and observes their behavior very well. So the team recently started moving to Whatsapp video calls and it was much easier for them to get connected. In most parts of India,including rural areas, people are accustomed to using Whatsapp. Sessions have been progressing very effectively since the transition to Whatsapp video calls.

In the new model, parents are taught how to record the child’s activities and behavior at home and then send it in to the special educator before the home therapy session starts. The special educator is now able to observe various areas of the child’s visual performance which needed improvement or correction. There were some hiccups initially with the this mode of communication, parents are much more comfortable with WhatsApp calling. If sessions get disconnected or run into technical issues mothers can call back immediately and make quick corrections since they are comfortable with the simpler technical platform. Parents set the phone in a stable position and the therapy session starts.

Lockdown in Madurai has been lifted from 1st September onwards, and the center can now see a few children, per day, who live close to the hospital with adequate precautions. Through online platform they continue to provide therapy remotely to others.

One of the silver linings of COVID have been the development of new ideas and new ways of working which will outlive the pandemic. This new model has enabled the team in Madurai to connect with and provide therapy to children in remote areas far from Madurai. In the near future, this may help VIsion-Aid to provide virtual therapy session to children from other districts and states as well, significantly broadening Vision-Aid’s reach and impact.

VIsion-Aid has the deepest appreciation for the entire Aravind team, led by Dr. P.Vijayalakshmi, Dr. Sahithya, Ms. Flora and the extended team for their tireless efforts. Special thanks to Pratima and Venkat Srinivasan for supporting projects at Aravind, in honor of their parents Mrs. Sundara and Mr. Srinivasan.

You may enjoy seeing the short (3 minute) video showing one such session. Even though the video is in Tamil – English subtitles make it accessible to all, thanks to our volunteer Anand Kavalapara for adding the English sub-titles.

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