Sir John Wilson founded Sightsavers in 1950 as the British Empire Society for the Blind; the nobleman was blind himself and his wife Lady Jean Wilson is credited for coining the phrase “river blindness” the common name for onchocerciasis. Mainly focused on education and cataract surgeries, the foundation, which was formed to help the poorest countries eradicate visual impairments and blindness has grown to cover various countries. Changing its name to the Royal Commonwealth Society For the Blind, the foundation has royalty as its patron.
First, the foundation set out to create low-cost mass treatment centers in India then moved to West Africa. The effectiveness of the pioneer eye camps in Karachi, the Sightsavers Inclusive Education Program was formed. Focus shifting from clinic to local training to increase efficiency and enhance the spread of treatments. Now the charity holds workshops to rehabilitate and educate the locals and this increase the standards of living as the community becomes more self-sufficient and the people become more independent.
In many communities, the lack of information is the biggest obstacle to the ending of avoidable blindness. Sightsavers was recently awarded the status of Independent Research Organization, and this means the foundation can receive grants and support from several Councils such as the Medical Research Council. Not only does this mean more resources to carry out studies to improve ongoing programs and create new techniques, but Sightsavers can also now collaborate with various partners to carry out initiatives that lead to ensuring the poor too can have a future.
Vision 2020, is a joint initiative that also includes the World Health Organization and is aimed at the total eradication of avoidable blindness by the year 2020. To achieve this goal, the charity launched the World Sight Day which is now an annual event that comes in October. In what is described as the most significant disease survey, Sightsavers led the Global Trachoma Mapping Project which tracked the prevalence of the infection across 29 countries. The project, finalized in 2016, used mobile phones to gather and send data on trachoma and was funded by the UK Department for International Development.