Improving Eye Health Outcomes for Black/African American People with Community Insights for a Community Pilot Program

Ashley King, MPH, CHES1, Brittany Linton, BA1, Briah Stokes, BA1, Maria Zacharias, BA2, Devina Fan, MPH2, Jaime Dawson, MPH1 and Kim Hassell, MPH1, (1)CommunicateHealth, Inc., Rockville, MD, (2)National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

Background: Eye health disparities persist among Black/African American people because of limited access to care, resources, and information. This medically underserved population also tends to be less familiar with eye health — and to perceive it as low priority, especially compared with other health issues. As a result, Black/African American communities have higher rates of eye diseases that cause vision loss but lower rates of treatment.

Program background: The National Eye Institute (NEI) works to share messages about finding, treating, and managing eye diseases. In 2022, CommunicateHealth supported NEI to develop its Eye Health, My Health (EHMH) campaign to empower Black/African American people to prioritize their eye health by:

  • Highlighting the link between eye health and whole-body health
  • Encouraging eye-healthy habits and comprehensive dilated eye exams
  • Helping families learn their eye health history
  • Acknowledging systemic barriers to care and providing relevant resources
EHMH also seeks to mobilizes community organizations to educate Black/African American people about eye health. Our poster focuses on how we used insights from local health educators (HEs) and community health workers (CHWs) to inform NEI’s community pilot and ultimately national roll out of materials.

Evaluation Methods and Results: In 2022, CommunicateHealth conducted formative research with HEs/CHWs from 4 community organizations that support Black/African American people. The goal was to:

  • Understand eye health knowledge and needs among HEs/CHWs and Black/African American community members
  • Explore effective strategies and tactics for engaging Black/African American people
  • Learn about CHWs’ and HEs’ experiences implementing health education activities and building trust
The research revealed the following best practices for engaging Black/African American people about eye health:

  • Explain the “why.” HEs and CHWs shared that it’s challenging to implement health education programming when community members don’t know much about the topic. So it’s important to make information relevant by sharing specific statistics linking eye health to real-world outcomes.
  • Seek to educate and HEs and CHWs highlighted barriers to eye health, including cost, transportation, and medical mistrust. Equipping community members with practical, empowering tools and resources is key to overcoming these barriers.
  • Respectfully meet people where they are. HEs and CHWs emphasized making information accessible through existing communication streams — like barbershop kiosks or faith-based services. They stressed that it’s equally important to respect existing customs and norms to maintain engagement within these communication streams.
  • Build trust. CHWs and HEs highlighted 2 key steps to build trust: being consistent and investing time in the community. Shaping programming and approach by learning directly from local organizations and community members can accelerate building trust — and demonstrate a commitment to meeting community needs.

Conclusions: This research played a key role in developing NEI’s EHMH community pilot. Co-creating campaign materials with these professionals ensured the materials aligned with best practices for engaging the priority audience.

Implications for research and/or practice: NEI is implementing the EHMH community pilot in Rochester, NY, nevertheless findings from this pilot could inform future campaigns addressing other less-frequently prioritized health topics among Black/African American communities.