VAO has been working in partnership with Specsavers to improve access to eye care in Zambia for the past 10 years. As a result, Vision Centres have been set up in all ten provinces and many people have received the eye care and glasses they need. However, many people are not able to travel to the centres where healthcare is provided. Thanks to support from Specsavers, we are addressing this by integrating eye care into primary healthcare, at the community level, and into national school eye health plans.

In practice this means we’ve been training teachers and primary health care staff to identify vision impairments, giving them the equipment they need to do this, and then getting eye health professionals from the nearest Vision Centre or eye hospital to visit, and provide anyone referred with the eye care they need.

Improving eye health services at the community level means more people have access to eye care and so preventative work can be done, which means there is less demand on the limited number of national and regional eye hospital services and staff.

Despite delays in the start of this work due to the pandemic, the results of the first year (April 2020 to March 2021) of this new strategy are in, and there’s a lot to celebrate!

 

One student who was helped through this work was Onanta.

Onanta is the youngest of seven siblings and is in grade 12 at secondary school.

She wakes ups at 4:30 am on school days to study for an hour, before doing chores, and then heading off to school to start lessons at 7am. After school she has extra tuition lessons, she helps cook dinner, then studies more before heading to bed.

She works hard and dreams of becoming a nurse in the army.

However, Onanta was struggling at school as her eyesight began to deteriorate.

 “When I seat behind the classroom I wouldn’t read properly on the board and I would always have headaches when I read for some time”.

Though she visited a health clinic she was given eye drops which did not help, and relatives told her to put sugar water in her eyes. There was little knowledge about eye health in Onanta’s community and school.

Happily, one of the teachers at Onanta’s school was trained by VAO to screen for vision problems, with follow up visits from eye health professionals to provide further eye examinations and to provide glasses.

 

Onanta was one of the students seen and given a pair of glasses.

“When I received glasses, I was able to see clearly, I would read without difficulties even if I seat at the back in class. I don’t experience the headaches anymore. This helps me, not only to perform well in class, but also to prepare for my grade 12 final exams without difficulties.”

 

In the last year, this programme has seen us working in partnership with the Ministry of Health and other international NGOs to coordinate the roll out of primary eye care training throughout Zambia. We have trained nine ophthalmologists and a chief nursing officer to deliver the eye care training in their parts of the country. In the coming year we will be supporting these trainers to provide primary health staff with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to treat or refer patients. Basic equipment will be procured to carry out eye care services and reading glasses and eye drops will be available at the primary health centres taking part.

 

Our work in schools began in 2019 with a pilot study in Kafue District, which proved training teachers worked as a way to identify eye problems in children. To expand this, we worked in partnership with the Ministry of General Education and other international NGOs already working in schools. As a result, we were able to integrate eye health into the national school health plans and provide a proven method of improving the eye health of school children.

For the first year of the programme 41 schools in Kabwe District were selected to take part, and out of the 31,686 students present 25,040 have been screened for vision problems so far.

To make sure students take part in the eye health screening it has been necessary to run awareness raising campaigns, using radio and printed adverts. Schools have also acted as eye health champions in their communities, by organising meetings with parents. However, further work is needed, as it has been reported that some parents prevented their children from attending as they did not understand or trust what was being provided.

The rest of the year will see further eye health screening across the remaining schools in Kabwe District, and further preparation to roll out the programme nationally.

 

We would like to thank Specsavers for their ongoing support, which has enabled us to provide life changing eye care in Zambia.

To find out more about our work in Zambia >>>