Sight is one of the precious gifts that the almighty God has bestowed to humans and, of course, other members of the animal kingdom. Sadly, however, many lose it because they lack access to facilities where they can receive help when eye problems start. It is for this reason that volunteers from Vision Aid Overseas (VAO) in the United Kingdom have come to Zambia to establish eye clinics in all provinces and offer training in refraction to the local people.
VAO is relatively not new in Zambia. According to Country Program Director Karen Edwards, that charitable organization has existed in Zambia as a Non Governmental Organization for the past 13 years. During her voluntary work in Zambia she has worked side-by-side with the Ministry of Health.
The organization has recently embarked on a three-year program to empower the trained Zambians so that even without external aid they can provide corrective measures to those who have irregularities with sight. Mrs. Edwards disclosed that in the first year of the program they are giving 100% aid. In the second, they will provide 50% and 25% in the third year. Thereafter, the Zambian government will continue providing all the necessary help.
To get the program under way, there was a team of five optometrists from VAO who were training Zambians to carry on the work when they left. Those UK based volunteers footed their own bill for travel, stay and acquisition of equipment. Quiet commendable!
During their stay in Zambia they incorporated the training with free eye tests and provision of spectacles to patients in needs at a cost which was as good as free. Very fancy fully fitted spanking new eyeglasses were ranging from K10 (US$1.6) to K100 (US$16). That swanky type which is sold at about K1000 (US$160) by commercial opticians and worn only by the elite was going for a mere K200 (US$ 33).
The money raised from the sale of the specs will be used to sustain the clinics. Surely for the wide range of frames to be maintained and satisfy patients of all classes, money will be needed. Patients can choose the frames in the dispensary ably manned by fully trained optical dispensers Namakau Mulezimu and Harrison Mukonde. These two can advise which frames can fit well without causing any strain.
VAO also established a vision center at Ndola Central Hospital (NCH). That exercise, according to team leader Margaret Murray, was a success. Indeed it was because the lab for making the spectacles is now running at full capacity.
Ms. Murray further explained that their plan is to set up eye clinics in all provinces of Zambia so that patients won’t have to travel to Ndola or Lusaka for eye tests. Instead, they will be tested where they live and if it is established that they need glasses, only their prescriptions will be forwarded to Ndola by the quickest means. When the glasses are made, they will promptly be sent back to the patients.
For two consecutive weeks, many residents of Ndola who have and who don’t have eye problems went there to be tested. Those who were found to be in need of glasses were advised on which lenses they needed for reading and/or distance. Even those who needed just sunspecs received attention.
Ms. Murray said, “Everyday we attended to an average of forty-five patients.” Such a response can only be described as successful and in agreement with VAO’s slogan: ‘Helping the World to see.’
The two weeks exercise which they did in Ndola was not the end; it was only part one. “There will be part two in October and, thereafter, part three,” Ms. Murray promised. So those who missed part one only need to take heart; more is coming.
In fact, as the Country Program Director disclosed, after setting up a glass making lab at NCH, VAO in Zambia has plans to establish another one at Chainama Hospital in Lusaka. Outreach programs are also in the pipeline. This means that even those who live in areas where there will be no clinics will be cared for.
VAO did not make the whole exercise a success on its own, there were Zambians who played key rolls. Mrs. Edwards did not hesitate to give credit to Dr. David Mwitumwa, the program assistant in Zambia, whom she described as a key man in the establishment of the lab for making glasses at NCH. National Eye Health Coordinator Dr. Muma Mulenga, based at Ndeke House in Lusaka and Mr. Metela Lukavu who is the Optometry Clinical Officer and Cataract surgeon also contributed to the success of the program.
Others are Dr. Misa Funjika, Senior Medical Superintendent at NCH and Dr. Malawo Dante. The entire NCH management also received praises from VAO for paving way for the smooth running of the program.
With the opening of the fully equipped eye clinic on May 15, 2014 at NCH, Zambia is headed for a future of reduced blindness. What remains is to uproot the uncivilized belief found especially in the rural areas that glasses spoil eyes (of course using wrong glasses can impair one’s vision). Therefore, every glass-wearing Zambia must proudly correct that misconception and help more Zambians to see.