Fund Feature – i Gift Sight Canada
Aly Bandali – Tackling preventable vision loss in Southern Alberta
Aly Bandali holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta. After a 25-year career in HR and leadership in Calgary in non-profit, technology, oil, and gas, he had an opportunity to join Give Sight Global (“GSG”). In joining GSG, Aly followed a passion for ensuring everyone has access to quality eye care services regardless of background or financial means. Tackling preventable blindness and vision loss is a personal cause.
Aly was born in Uganda and came to Canada as a refugee in 1973. His grandmother raised him while his parents worked to establish themselves as new Canadians. Prior to immigrating, she started losing her vision leaving Africa due to a preventable eye condition. Her avoidable blindness, a disability in the refugee camps, likely resulted in her being stranded longer than those without disabilities. He often wonders what their lives would have been like had she come to Canada with her sight.
Though much of his work with GSG was on the international side, Aly started to examine the state of vision care at home in Alberta. The more he learned, the more gaps he saw and opportunities to improve, especially in the most vulnerable communities.
Vision Care in Canada
In Canada, we have access to a great healthcare system. While politicians may argue various points on systemic inadequacies, we generally receive the medical care we need. Like the dental care issues we focused on in a previous post, vision care is outside dental care issues we focused on in a previous post; vision care is outside of that umbrella.
While the government covers vision exams, the cost of refractive care (the need for glasses) is not. Diagnosing the problem without the means to treat it only pushes it down the road and increases the risk of further complications. Those fortunate to have vision benefits rarely get sufficient coverage to cover a single pair of glasses. The government covers surgeries for vision issues, but patients face long wait times. Furthermore, access becomes even more complicated for vulnerable communities.
The Problem – Preventable Vision Loss
The National Coalition for Vision Health estimates that one in four school-age children has a vision problem. The Canadian Association of Optometrists estimates that fewer than 14 percent of children in Canada under six have had a comprehensive eye exam.
In the classroom, 80% of learning is visual for children. The educational impact of undetected or untreated vision problems in schools is well documented. The article Poor Vision Affects Child Development published by Eye Trust I Care, describes the social and physical developmental issues and barriers children with undetected vision problems face.
While children are eligible for one free pair of glasses in Kindergarten, it is only one. As children grow and develop, their vision changes as well, leaving that one pair insufficient.
Eye health links to and affects other health and social factors. For example, in Canada, diabetic blindness affects 25% of diabetics; of the homeless population, 40% experience some form of untreated vision impairment; in adults over 85, approximately 21% experience vision loss.
80% of world blindness is avoidable.
The Cost of Vision Loss in Canada
Vision loss issues have repercussions across our entire healthcare and social systems. In The cost of vision loss and blindness in Canada, a 2021 study by Deloitte, estimates that:
“[Vision Loss] led to an overall cost of $32.9 billion in 2019, including costs to the healthcare system, productivity, other financial costs, and loss of wellbeing.”
The article, The cost of vision loss is far more than poor sight, cites a study done by PricewaterhouseCoopers that estimates for every $1 invested in eye health, $4 is returned in economic gains. In a Canadian context, the total cost of vision loss in Canada equates to $27,251 per person. A single-dollar investment into eye health can save taxpayers millions of dollars. Deloitte also estimates that based on trends in population growth and aging, that cost will grow to $56 billion by 2050. Proper intervention, diagnosis and treatment can help prevent future burdens to the system, according to Deloitte.
“…Approximately 71% ($23.5 billion) of the financial and well-being costs of vision loss estimated in this research are preventable if the impacts of vision loss can be minimized.”
i Gift Sight Canada
It is these and other statistics that focused Aly’s attention back to Southern Alberta. Pivoting away from the Global Organization, Aly is heading up a new entity, i Gift Sight Canada (“iGSG”). Modelling the Canadian program from the successful program in India, iGSC will bring access to vision care to those most vulnerable in southern Alberta.
The Southern Alberta Eye Center (“SAEC”) is a fully functional, world-class vision facility. Capable of operating as a secondary hospital, the center houses 4 complete surgical suites. The facility, fully utilized under a charity ownership structure, has the capacity for 24 Ophthalmologists.
Aly envisions satellite vision centers that could perform preliminary diagnoses and refer patients to the SAEC. The satellite centers, for example, one in each indigenous nation, run by trained community members, would assess and build rapport with those who need care in their own communities. iGSC could become a teaching and learning center, sharing practices with other like-minded organizations worldwide.
By maximizing combined provincial or federal benefits and tax incentives, donated dollars balance the funding. Looking at both direct donations as well as additional revenue, iGSC will developing a repeatable fundraising strategy.
Aly and his team are exploring all options for controlling the costs of treating vision. From sourcing affordable frame and lens options to providing basic testing and glasses kits for schools, the team ensures every dollar invested has the maximum impact on those who need it.
Tackling preventable vision loss in Alberta is the first step. Ultimately, the goal is to build a self-sustainable model for eye health and preventable vision loss for southern Alberta. What works here can be duplicated and scaled in other regions.
How to Help
Although Aly has had a successful corporate career, pursuing this path has always had personal meaning. Envisioning what his grandmother’s life would have been had her blindness been prevented, he will ensure no one in his community ever has to ask that question.