Anastase Dushimimana’s son Elvis Dushime Habinshuti, a primary one pupil at SOS Kacyiru, always performed poorly in class. Right from baby class, Habinshuti always held the last position. His mother decided to hire a tutor, but even that did not help. This is when she decided to approach the teacher to see how this issue would be solved; his teacher then suggested to have Habinshuti sit on the first row as a way of giving him close attention. But at times when the teacher requested Habinshuti to read, the child would resort to crying, and this is what informed them of his underlying problem—he had an eye infection. But lucky for him, an eye screening campaign was yet to approach his school with the aim of combatting eye diseases among school-going children. The campaign, ‘Sight for school’, eye screening project aided Habinshuti’s eye recovery. In an interview with Health Times, Dushimimana applauded the project for fixing his son’s eye disease, saying that he is now performing tremendously well and was among the best in his class. The Ministry of Health has of recent put emphasis on curbing eye diseases, this is demonstrated by several campaigns it has initiated in a bid to combat these diseases. The ‘Sight for School’ project, for example, is one of them, and on top of this, there are the number of eye treatment facilities that have been availed at most levels in the health sector. Information from Rwanda Biomedical Centre shows that in 2016 only, around 500 health centres received 780,428 people with eye problems. Eye infections have proved to be a worrying ailment and though they rarely claim lives, they are very painful and can have sound effects on someone’s life. However, medics console that 80 per cent of all the optic diseases can be healed. The role of the ‘sight for school’ project This is an initiative of the Ministry of Health through Rwanda International Institute of Ophthalmology (RIIO) that started earlier this year in February and has been carried out in different schools throughout the school year. The project was carried out with a goal of reliably identifying children with poor vision or other eye problems through screening and availing proper treatment. It reached out to over 20 primary schools in Bugesera and Gasabo Districts. These include GS Gisozi, St Paul International School, College Ami des Enfants, GS Nyamata Catholique and Little Angels, among others. The project screened 24,892 children. Boys were 12608 and 932 out of them were positive whereas among the 12284 girls screened, 933 out of them were also identified as positive. Those who were infected received medicaments, some were given eyeglasses and others were transferred to hospitals. Dr Diane Gashumba, the Minister of Health, said through this campaign, health officials have the chance to sensitise kids on hygiene and a balanced diet as some of the factors that need to be considered when dealing with eye problems. “We advise them to be clean, to eat foods containing vitamin A, such as carrots, that enhance one’s sight. We tell them not to use traditional medicines because these can have consequences. The same message goes to parents, teachers and local government officials also,” Gashumba says. Sanitation is key According to Gashumba, most of the eye disorders are as a result of uncleanliness, and with this, she says it’s important for one to regularly clean their hands using clean water and soap, noting that this prevents one from getting eye diseases. Experts reveal that a person can rub their eyes up to 200 times a day. Touching eyes with contaminated hands can result into eye diseases that can even result into blindness. For example, with conjunctivitis (an inflammation of the conjunctiva, which covers the white part of the eyeball) if one touches where the infected person has touched, and later on touches their eyes, the disease is immediately transferred. That’s why it is important to wash hands as much as possible. In Rwanda, one out of a 100 people above 50 years of age, is blind. It is possible that they could have prevented this through adequate hygiene. The ‘Sight for School’ campaign revealed eye diseases that affected students mostly; strabismus was at the top with 51 students, 35 students had refractive error, 27 had plosis and other 27 had infective conjunctivitis. With this, officials called out to parents to always seek proper medical attention for their kids rather than relying on traditional methods. The project coordinator, Prof Ciku Mathenge, says that regardless of the different campaigns, some parents are still reluctant to treat eye diseases, signifying them to heredity circumstances. “We cured some diseases which are tragically contagious, but parents had refused to take their kids for treatment, claiming that the infections were more of hereditary diseases, yet these are diseases that can be treated in a few days,” he says. “We wanted to make sure that even when this particular project comes to an end, parents can still have the skills or knowledge on eye treatment services,” Ciku says. They planned on having teachers receive training in identifying infected children. The Director General of Clinical and Public Health Services unit at the Ministry of health, Dr Zuberi Muvunyi, hails the Rwanda International Institute of Ophthalmology, saying that the project played a significant role in uprooting eye diseases and defects in schools. “This project has been unique in a sense that it has dealt with a lot of schools in a short time, meaning that the students and educators were not disturbed from keeping up with the annual academic calendar,” Muvunyi says. Dr Parfait Uwaliraye, the director general of Planning, Health Financing and Information Systems unit at The Ministry of Health, points out that the activities implemented in the two districts have had a massive impact in terms of health development. “This has contributed to the improvement of a number of students’ vision and their wellbeing all together. Without clear vision, you can’t read or do any other activities effectively. If this eye treatment campaign had reached far, it would have had a greater impact,” he says.