This year has seen many challenges for our staff in Ethiopia, Sierra Lone and Zambia, but thanks to their hard work and our amazing supporters, we have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to in 2021!

A lot of work was paused due to Covid-19 but we still managed to support local efforts to reduce the spread of the virus, by donating equipment and funding to local public health teams.

 


Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone our School Eye Health work has restarted, with teachers again screening students for vision problems, mobile eye care teams visiting schools, and community engagement starting with religious and community leaders.

Looking to the year ahead we plan to carry out the second round of mobile eye care team school visits, screening more school children, more training of optometry technicians, health promotion activities, eye examinations and dispensing of spectacles to those that need them.

The goal of the project is to deliver a school-based eye health programme that provides annual vision screening, eyeglasses, referral and treatment for children and teachers, and to develop guidelines that will enable it to be scaled up across the country.  The targets for the School Eye Health project are to reach 159 rural schools, screening 44,000 children and 988 teachers to  improve eye health and vision in Kenema district of the Eastern Province. So far, though progress was slowed by school closures as a result of Covid-19, 158 teachers have been trained in vision screening, over 24,000 children have been screened and 46 mobile eye clinic sessions have been run in schools, seeing 256 children.

The School Eye Health programme was made possible by the generous support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

In our other core programme in Sierra Leone, thanks to the Clothworkers Foundation, last year saw 16 government employed health workers trained using the WHO-Afro Primary Eye Care toolkit, and an additional 240 community health workers were trained to screen for vision problems and deliver positive eye health messages across 16 chiefdoms in Kenema district.

The focus of the Primary Eye Care programme is to integrate Primary Eye Care (PEC) into Primary Health Care (PHC), thereby strengthening the existing health system to address many of the eyecare needs at the front line in the community.

Though progress has been slowed by Covid-19, the trained health workers treated 1,065 patients with eye drops for eye infections, 301 patients were issued with reading glasses or sunglasses, and 64 people were referred to a district hospital for further treatment.

Country Director Alfred Yambasu said his highlight of the year was ‘the reconstruction of the Koidu optical workshop that was burnt down in 2019’.  This was thanks to a grant from Vision Mundi who have enabled us to rebuild and equip a new Vision Centre to replace the one that was destroyed in a fire. And in 2021 he is looking forward to planning for the scale up of the two pilot projects (School Eye Health and Primary Eye Care).

 

The rebuilt Koidu optical workshop.

Equipment donated by our Sierra Leone team to help with the response to Covid-19.


Ethiopia

In Ethiopia our School Eye Health work has restarted, with a new group of teachers being trained to screen their students and colleagues for vision problems. Once teachers have screened students, teams of optometrist led eye health professionals will visit from a local hospital to provide further treatment to those who need it.

The aim of the current School Eye Health project is to train 40 teachers across 20 schools in East Wollega, and to screen over 18,000 children. This project has kindly been supported by Essilor, who have funded a new Vision Centre at Wollega University Referral Hospital, and provided equipment and a stock of glasses. The Country Manager, Belachew Paulos, has also worked closely with the government to ensure the project has strong support from local health and education authorities.

Next year will see an expansion of the School Eye Health work, as well as exploring opportunities to further support URE and low vision services through targeted training for Optometrists and other eye health professionals. 

Country Manager, Belachew Paulos, says his highlight for the year was opening the new Vision Centre in Wollega University Referral Hospital, and he is looking forward to securing funding to expand our life changing work in Ethiopia.

The new Vision Centre opening in Wollega University Referral Hospital.

Vision screening kits being provided to teachers trained by VAO as part of our School Eye Health work.


Zambia

In Zambia we are currently running School Eye Health and Primary Eye Care programmes. Though progress has been slow due to Covid-19, a lot of preparatory work has gone on behind the scenes to strengthen partnership work with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of General Education.

School Eye Health work is currently paused, while results from the pilot in 2019 are being studied, in collaboration with Queens University Belfast. This research will inform the strategy to scale up the School Eye Health work and to integrate it into the Zambian national school health and nutrition programme. 

In 2019-2020 a School Eye Health pilot was conducted which resulted in 154 teachers being trained across 73 schools to screen for vision problems. The teachers screened 18,713 children and found 5,958 had potential eye problems and were seen by the Mobile Eye Clinic teams. We are also hoping to work with Queens University Belfast, to research the impact of the school-based work on children’s mental health and educational outcomes.

This year Godfrey Mwelwa, Country Director, has led efforts to bring together eye health NGOs and the Ministry of Health, in order to adopt the WHO-Afro  Primary Eye Care training manual in Zambia.

The manual will be used to train eye care workers to screen for vision problems at the primary level, and those patients can be treated for minor problems or referred to a secondary facility, if needed.

Next year will see the scale up of the Primary Eye Care and school eye health programmes, which will start with community engagement from January to March 2021.

We would like to thank Specsavers for continuing to support and fund our PEC and school eye health work in Zambia.

Low Vision remains a neglected area of eye health across Zambia, which led VAO to develop a 2-week low vision course that has been so far 62 eye health professionals in Zambia have benefitted from.   This has been so well received that we have recently enlisted the support of a small group of UK volunteers who are experts in the field of low vision to develop a “training of trainers” course that we hope to run in 2021 to ensure the skills are left in the country in the long term. This course will train 6 members of the eye health workforce as trainers in basic Low Vision services, including identification, treatment and rehabilitation.  This has been made possible thanks to the generous support of Vision Mundi, who are also sponsoring two Zambian Optometrists to complete their Masters in Optometry in the coming year.

Vision Aid Overseas brought together a team of members of the Zambian National Prevention of Blindness Committee, to adapt the WHO PEC Training Manual to the national context, with the aim of standardising the training of Primary Health Care personnel.

Equipment donated by our team in Zambia to help with the Covid-19 response.


Ghana

Although our programme in Ghana has been in a state of hibernation over the past 12 months, we are very excited to announce that we are in the final planning stages with a key institutional donor for a new comprehensive eyecare programme, as part of a consortium with Vision For a Nation and Operation Eyesight Universal. It is a highly ambitious programme focussing on Central Region in Ghana, and will run for three years, starting in April 2021. More news to follow in the coming months!