In conjunction with the National Eye Care/Onchocerciasis Control Program of Tanzania and the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, ORBIS International held its second East African ORBIS/Vision 2020 Right to Sight Workshop July 9-11, 2008, in
Dar es Salaam,
The workshop brought together key policymakers, NGO representatives and ophthalmic practitioners from several East African nations to discuss the region’s critical eye care issues as well as their V2020 blindness prevention plans and strategies.
ORBIS VISION 2020 Right to Sight Workshop
participants in Dar es Salaam
Last year’s workshop in
Ethiopia, culminated in the creation of a 17-point action plan. This year’s workshop aimed to:
- Assess the action points created at last year’s workshop — what was accomplished, what still needs to be accomplished and how the East African community can move forward in reaching its goals.
- Create a sustainable VISION 2020 Right to Sight annual workshop for
- Serve as a forum for East African countries to discuss eye care issues and the V2020 programs in their respective countries, allowing participants to learn from the successes and failures of their neighbors.
- Bring together stakeholders at the policy, program design and implementation levels to foster networking and collaboration in a holistic manner.
- Increase policymakers’ awareness of preventable blindness by inviting to the workshop East African ministers of health and/or their representatives.
- Increase skills through lectures delivered by ORBIS volunteer medical faculty. This year’s topics covered glaucoma prevention, pediatric ophthalmology and the advantages of small incision cataract surgery.
Eight East African nations attend
Tanzania attended the 2008 workshop.
ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital Program Manager
Amelia Chamberlain said she was proud of this year’s turnout. “The increase demonstrates a growing commitment to the eye health needs of not just one nation, but to
East Africa as a whole,” she said. “We hope this display of commitment will continue.”
Emphasis placed on unity and collaboration
During his opening address, ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital Director
Erwin Temmerman pointed out the need for unity and cooperation to challenge the growing crisis of avoidable blindness in
East Africa. He emphasized the importance of advocating for stronger policies in eye care and encouraged countries to collaborate in making this issue a top priority.
“Over the course of the next few days, you will have the opportunity to examine what is working, what needs work and how we can achieve our goals — not as single nations or representatives of the people, but as individuals here today joined together as a united coalition — a league of African nations coming together against avoidable blindness. I hope that this display of allegiance and goodwill will set a precedent for future conferences and collaborative work between East African nations.”
Dr. Wondu Alemayehu, country director for ORBIS Ethiopia, also spoke on the need for government advocacy for eye health.
“Governments do not often see the prevention of blindness as a top health priority,” he stated. “When faced with the huge burden of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, along with a limited budget, it is difficult to push through the importance of blindness prevention. A way to get governments to provide support to eye care programs is to package eye care within the existing primary health care programs.”
Grim eye care situation fails to dampen spirits
Throughout the workshop, representatives from each country discussed the status of their VISION 2020 plans and their strategies for the future. Progress on these strategies varied dramatically. Some issues seemed to affect everyone: the high incidence of preventable blindness, especially the backlog of cataract surgeries; and the lack of infrastructure and human resources, especially in rural areas.
In all of
Burundi, for instance, there are only five ophthalmologists serving a population of 7.5 million. In
Ethiopia, only one ophthalmologist is available per 1 million people. In southern
Sudan, hospital infrastructure is almost non-existent.
Participants, however, managed to maintain optimism and were not discouraged by the enormous challenges ahead. As the workshop concluded, VISION 2020 coordinators from every country found themselves with substantial follow-up work to carry out — although in truth, everyone walked away with a task to do and a role to play in improving the state of eye care in East Africa.