At least 670 million people around the world are blind or vision impaired simply because they do not have access to an eye examination and a pair of glasses.
Vision for A Nation (VFAN) targets the prevention of blindness and impaired vision due to uncorrected refractive error by supporting programs that offer not only eye exams and glasses in Rwanda with little or no access to them, but that establish the infrastructure and human resources required for sustainable, quality vision care.
Abdallah Uwihoreye the Country Director for VFAN talked to the New Times about how they have helped many Rwandans get back their sight.
When we started operating in Rwanda in 2012, there were only 12 ophthalmologists in Rwanda and 90% were in Kigali mainly in Kabyayi, King Faisal, Kanombe military hospital and CHUK and one ophthalmologist was in Butare and others in private.
Most of the patients were referred to Kigali hospitals where there were referral hospital and private eye clinics.Rwanda requires additional ophthalmologists and mid-level surgeons to clear the backlog of people needing surgery.
Over the years, Rwanda has worked to improve the health of its people. However, the delivery of eye health services remained a challenge.
“We realized that there was a need out there of people suffering from eye defects who lacked accessibility and affordability” says Uwihoreye.
Cataract is the largest cause of avoidable blindness in the country while Trachoma is an eye infection related to poverty and mostly affects people in areas that have limited access to water and sanitation.
According to him, VFAN is working with the Government of Rwanda to support the delivery of equitable and sustained improvements across health services. Our focus is on the rural areas where 80% of the population lives, and where access to health services is extremely limited due to finite resources and financial allocation for eye health.
“There was need for us to invest in strengthening the whole continuum of care, and focus on the awareness and use of health services. Community members at times choose to seek treatment from traditional healers, which can often do more harm than good, so education and training was key to our work in Rwanda” he said.
So in 2012, we developed a curriculum for nurses in health center by qualified ophthalmologist which was later adapted by WHO. After developing the curriculum, VFAN started training primary eye care nurses in partnership with the Ministry of Health in October that same year.
Strengthening the eye health workforce is another key focus of The VFAN. Trainings started in Gicumbi, Rulindo, Gakenye, Burera and Munsaze in the North then we covered Eastern province, Kigali, Southern province and finally the Western province hence covering the whole country.
After the training, the foundation provided the healthy centers in every district with equipment to start treating patients while trying to secure glasses that we brought and distributed through RBC to District pharmacies for free.
The VFANs programs in Rwanda
The aim of the foundation is to ensure eye health is integrated into the national and county health systems through our ongoing working relationship with the Government of Rwanda.
After one year since its inception, it was found that only 30% of the patients were receiving treatment and that a big number was not accessing the service at the health centers because the many of the trained nurses had left.
“We sat with the Minister of health and discussed the problem and it was decided that the course should be added in schools of nursing in Universities in Rwanda.
We work with health training institutions to increase the training of eye health personnel. This will help address the acute shortage of skilled eye health workers, especially in rural areas where the need is greatest” says Uwihoreye.
VFAN continued to implement the program and analyzing data through making surveys and realized that the numbers were still not sufficient and that most people did not care about their vision.
“It’s because the eyes are not painful and this makes them reluctant to seek medication. So we decided to do an outreach program where we go to the people other than waiting for the people to come to the health centers” Uwihoreye explains.
Though it is costly, VFAN discussed with their stake holders on how they were going to fund the program and decided to send nurses from every health centers to go to all 15000 villages in all sectors of Rwanda
We’re making significant progress
Thanks to some great work with our partners, we achieved a lot the past few years 0f operating in Rwanda.
“Currently we are at 52% having our services at the village level where we have managed to reach a good number of eye patients who would never have had access because they are reluctant to go to health centers plus creating awareness” says the Country Director
VFAN provides services for all and it has availed glasses which are affordable at 1000Frw while some are given to the very poor free of charge thus catering for everyone.
Today, VFAN has its presence everywhere in all the 30 districts and in all 502 health centers in all the 15000 thousand villages across the country
VFAN continues to provide refresher trainings for the nurses who are now very conversant in treating eye patients because of the experience they have acquired over the years
More specifically, VFAN is focusing on training eye care nurses and other healthcare workers to build a sustainable workforce. We’re also working with our partners to help raise general awareness of eye health and the help available. To complement this, we’re increasing our outreach screening and treatment services.
“We are working with IMBUTO Foundation by identifying old genocide survivors by going to their homes and treating them. We shall provide them with eye drops and glasses while those who need surgery will be referred to hospitals and treated for free,” concludes the Director.
At the outskirts of Nyanza town in Rwabicuma Sector lies five beautiful houses in a compound the size of a football field. This is home for 15 genocide widows (Incike) and two men.
The old ladies clad in various Bitenge of different colors are waiting to greet us. It is evident that we are late for they have been waiting for hours eager to get their sight back.
As they welcome the team of doctors to the place that has been prepared as the treatment room, these Genocide survivors exude happiness because they feel that they are not alone and that the world out there is always trying to see that they get a better and healthy life.
Immediately after the welcome and a speech from Abdallah Uwihoreye the Country Director of Vision For a Nation (VFAN) the foundation that volunteered to offer free treatment to the Genocide survivors, the ophthalmologists start their work.
“We are happy to be with you today and the purpose of our visit is to restore your sight. When you are healthy, it makes us and Rwanda’s First lady proud.
All the 17 old people ailing from different types of eye defects undergo treatment and many are given free eye glasses and eye drops. By the end of the day, the smiles are impeccable.
Muganyinga Chantal who is the caretaker of IMPINGA NZIMA Nyanza Home says what VFAN has done is great and that to these old people is a miracle.
“These people have no relative left in the world. When they see people helping them, it makes them happy especially when it comes to their health. Because of their old age, all of them have problems with their sight which is very dangerous as they move around the home,” says Chantel.
Anastasie Mukarushema, 70year old widow, sole genocide survivor in her family and one of the beneficiaries of the eye treatment is happy to have her sight back and the eye glasses that she has been given are a treasure.
“I love reading the Bible but of late, I was shying away from the practice because of my eyes. But now, am sure that am going to resume reading every day because I have been treated thanks to these nice people that were definitely sent here by God,” Mukarushema says.
She also expressed her gratitude to the President of Rwanda, H.E Paul Kagame and Rwanda Patriotic Army for stopping Genocide. She thanked the President and RDF for their continued support in improving living standards of survivors.
The fully furnished houses were constructed by RDF Reserve Force in partnership with Genocide Survivors Assistance Fund (FARG), Imbuto Foundation, Genocide Widows Association (AVEGA) and Partners.
The Government needs more than Rwf36 billion to construct and rehabilitate houses for vulnerable groups in three years. The houses were constructed at a cost of Rwf175 million.
N.B: This is a sponsored article