Eyecare mission to Uganda provides free eye tests to over 500 rural residents
With only 11 practicing ophthalmologists* and 70 ophthalmic clinical officers** for a country of 36 million people, Uganda is chronically underserved by eyecare specialists. It is estimated that 1.5 million people suffer from avoidable blindness, a problem that is directly attributable to the desperate shortage of eye-care professionals.
In poorer rural communities, visual impairment due to uncorrected refractive error is accepted as part of normal life. The majority of Ugandans live outside the main cities, where access to services is difficult because the cost of transport is prohibitive and most treatment is unaffordable.
In January, three UK-based optometrists and an administrator set up eye clinics in four rural villages in impoverished areas of the country, in partnership with the local health-care providers. The optometrists were Debbie Young, Kirsty Hutchinson and Fiona Broome. The administrator was Rosemary Gorman, who ensured the smooth running of the clinics.
The clinics were only possible because of help from several UK suppliers, including Keeler, who donated a student ophthalmoscope/retinoscope set, as well as two sets which were purchased by the team. In addition, Ian Livingstone generously funded the team’s equipment purchases, Sussex Vision helped with a reduction on a Perkins Tonometer, and Foster Grant donated several hundred pairs of spectacles.
The short-term aim of the visit was to improve the sight of local people, while the longer-term aim was to share their knowledge with community health care workers to enable them to provide education and improved eye-care services at primary care level; to provide equipment to the Eye Unit at Jinja Hospital, one of Uganda’s 13 Regional Referral Hospitals; to work in partnership with the government’s glazing facility at Jinja; and finally to trial a new design of adjustable prescription spectacles on behalf of a UK charity.
The team tested over 500 patients and screened the vision of a further 168 patients. They also dispensed 322 pairs of spectacles. At the end of the clinics all equipment (from Keeler and other providers) was donated to the Eye Unit at Jinja Hospital. All four village leaders have asked the team to return to do further work in the future.
“It’s been an enormous privilege for the four of us to be involved in a project that has improved and even transformed the lives of hundreds of people, from the 95-year-old man who wanted to peel his vegetables and read his Bible, to the four-year-old girl who can now see to read and write,” said Kirsty Hutchinson. “Collectively, we made some difficult lives a little easier.”
“Many thanks to everyone who supported us. The equipment was donated to the hard working, very poorly-equipped Ophthalmology Department at Jinja Hospital when we left Uganda. You would be amazed by the lack of decent working equipment which with which they work. They were so unbelievably grateful!” added Kirsty.
“We’re always very happy to support this kind of charitable work,” says Laura Haverley, Keeler’s Sales and Marketing Manager. “Eye care and preventing vision loss are critical to overall health and quality of life.”
* Source: Dr Susan Kikira, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Jinja Hospital.
**Ophthalmic Clinical Officers have a Diploma in eye-care services which is a one year course offered from Jinja Hospital.