From Optometry to Advocacy: A Chevening Scholar’s Inspiring Path
Ms Junu Shrestha


Interview summarised by Ms. Sucheta Mitra

Join us on InSight Radio for an inspiring episode featuring Ms. Junu Shrestha, a Chevening scholar. Discover her incredible journey from optometry in Nepal to pursuing a master’s in public health and health policy planning in the UK. She uncovered the scholarship opportunity, leading her to prestigious institutions like London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and London School of Economics and Political Sciences. Junu’s story emphasises the importance of addressing broader societal concerns in healthcare. Gain insights into cost-effective interventions for conditions like cataract, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy, and explore the strategic plan, “Insight 2030,” aiming to eliminate avoidable blindness and vision impairment globally. Learn from Junu’s experience as a Chevening scholar and uncover valuable advice for aspiring optometrists looking to study in the UK. Don’t miss this engaging episode that empowers you to make a positive impact on global eye health.

In this InSight Radio episode, our host Sucheta Mitra welcomes the distinguished Ms. Junu Srestha. With an impressive background spanning public health, optometry, and advocacy, Junu is now the Policy and Advocacy Manager at the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB). Among her notable achievements are the Chevening Scholarship and the IAPB Eye-Health Hero award.

Junu’s journey into eye health advocacy began during her optometry studies in Nepal, where she served as the president of the Nepalese Optometry Student Society. She recognised the lack of recognition for eye care professionals, including optometrists, in her country. Junu and her colleagues organized programs to engage with policymakers, particularly from the Ministry of Health, to discuss the importance of eye health policies and the future prospects for optometrists.

Her advocacy efforts continued as she became actively involved with the Nepalese Association of Optometrists and participated in national workshops on health policy development. Junu’s persistent efforts aimed to include eye health in essential healthcare services and advocate for the recognition and integration of optometrists into Nepal’s healthcare system. Despite initial challenges, Junu’s commitment to raising awareness and advocating for eye health in Nepal has led to significant progress.

Junu explains that IAPB is a global organisation closely affiliated with the World Health Organization (WHO) and is actively involved in advocacy related to eye health. Her day-to-day responsibilities include supporting IAPB’s 200+ member organizations worldwide, which comprise NGOs, eye care service providers, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions. Junu leads efforts to advocate for integrated people-centered eye care, which involves producing advocacy materials, policy briefs, and organizing online events and webinars to inspire and equip advocates in the field. Integrated people-centered eye care emphasises integrating eye health into the broader healthcare system of a country and providing patient-centered care that values individuals’ preferences and needs. Junu encourages optometrists to provide people-centered care and develop advocacy skills to engage with local governments and stakeholders. She suggests that optometrists can find support materials on integrated people-centered eye care from WHO and IAPB resources and encourages them to start advocating for this approach at various levels.

Junu Shrestha acknowledges the challenges in advocacy, particularly the need to not just highlight problems but also present cost-effective solutions. She mentions that eye health often isn’t a top priority in many countries, and financial and resource constraints can be significant obstacles. To overcome these challenges, Junu emphasises the importance of reminding policymakers about their commitment to IPEC and taking small, incremental steps toward implementing the program.

She advises new graduate optometrists to first learn about IPEC, explore resources available from WHO and IAPB, and understand the four phases of implementation: analysis, planning, operationalization, and review. For experienced optometrists, she suggests actively engaging with policymakers, advocating for policy changes, and involving newcomers in advocacy efforts. She provides the following tips for effective advocacy:

  1. Keep it simple: Use plain language and concise messaging.
  2. Be brief: Policymakers are busy, so provide key points and solutions.
  3. Work together and be inclusive: Collaborate with various stakeholders impacted by the policy change.
  4. Understand the policy cycle: Learn about the timing and cycles of policy changes in your country to maximize your efforts.

Ms. Junu emphasizes advocating for the screening of these eye conditions and integrating them into basic healthcare services. Specifically, she suggests advocating for:

  • The integration of screening for cataract, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy into primary healthcare centers.
  • The availability of treatment at primary healthcare centers and ensuring a smooth referral process to secondary or tertiary care when needed.
  • The integration of ophthalmic professionals at the primary healthcare level.
  • The inclusion of eye care services in government health financing systems, such as national health insurance schemes, to improve accessibility.

Junu underscores that addressing these barriers, including distance and financial constraints, can significantly enhance access to eye care services, making these interventions more effective and cost-effective.

Ms. Junu Shrestha delved into Insight 2030, a comprehensive sector strategy for eye health that goes beyond the Vision 2020 initiative. Insight 2030 is built on three core pillars: Elevate, Integrate, and Activate. It aims to raise awareness about the broader impact of eye health, integrate it into healthcare systems, and activate people’s awareness for a world free of avoidable blindness by 2030. The overarching goal of Insight 2030 is to ensure that by the end of this decade (2030), no one in the world should experience avoidable blindness and vision impairment. Additionally, the strategy aims to empower individuals with visual impairments to reach their maximum potential through rehabilitation and support services.

Ms. Junu Shrestha inspiring Chevening scholar journey and insights for aspiring scholars. She emphasizes the importance of thinking from a broader societal perspective and how to approach the scholarship application process. Her advice to aspiring scholars includes networking, cultural exchange, and the significance of contributing to their home countries. She also highlights specific courses for optometrists and eye health professionals, shedding light on the application process and key areas of focus for candidates.

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