• public health;
  • refractive error;
  • Vision 2020;
  • volunteer organisations

Background:  Eye care professionals have been making short visits to developing countries for decades in an effort to reduce visual impairment caused by refractive error. A 2006 survey revealed that volunteer organisations were not working within the Vision 2020 framework. Recommendations were made for volunteer organisations that would better align their work with accepted Vision 2020 and public health principles.

Methods:  This study re-evaluates the alignment of volunteer organisations with Vision 2020 and public health principles. To determine their philosophies and methods, a web-based survey was sent to 89 volunteer organisations identified from an internet search.

Results:  The response rate was 48 per cent. Many (70.7 per cent) organisations exclusively mention direct service provision in their statement of purpose, often provided by student volunteers (75.6 per cent). A few (19.5 per cent) provide short training in refraction, not necessarily following best principles. The majority (82.1 per cent) dispenses recycled spectacles and many use medications not on national essential drug lists. Few attempt to follow aid effectiveness principles with only 26.8 per cent stating they follow Vision 2020 country plans. Overall, as in 2006, the work of these organisations is largely not in alignment with Vision 2020 and public health principles.

Conclusion:  Organisations interested in decreasing visual impairment due to refractive error in the developing world are encouraged to transition to organisations that not only recognise but also implement public health principles. This should include reprioritisation of their work to developing human resources and infrastructure, determining the burden and causes of disease, assisting in the training of mid-level personnel and providing professional and community education, collaborating via partnerships, discontinuing the use of recycled spectacles and inappropriate medications, and evaluating their outcomes. Following these recommendations as well as creating a better alignment with public health principles in general will increase the likelihood that their programs will be effective in decreasing visual impairment due to refractive error in the developing world.