Dispelling darkness in North-West eyes
Published On January 13, 2014 » 2903 Views» By Hildah Lumba » Features
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• 240,000 patients were screened while 10,000 cataract operations were carried out.

• 240,000 patients were screened while 10,000 cataract operations were carried out.

MORE than 314 million people worldwide live with low vision and blindness, and the fact that 90 per cent of these live in developing countries makes it an emergency requiring urgent attention. In Zambia, Standard Chartered Bank Plc has lit the candle to dispel the darkness, as MARTIN MUSUNKA reports.

STANDARD Chartered Bank Zambia Plc has gone beyond its core financial services business by branching off into the health amenities domain—with a comprehensive eye health programme for the people of North-Western Province.
The bank has launched the New Vision Centre at Solwezi General Hospital, under its Seeing Is Believing (SiB) Standard Chartered Bank’s global initiative aimed at confronting preventative blindness and visual impairment.
The SiB project in Zambia was officially unveiled in 2009 by first partnering with Sightsavers and then Orbis, a not-for-profit organisation.
So far, the bank has invested US$2 million into the SiB Zambia operations and more than one million Zambians have benefitted through, among others, eye screening, cataract surgery and dispensing of spectacles.
Standard Bank Zambia Plc chief executive officer Andrew Okai said during the official launch of the partnership in the joint comprehensive eye health programme recently, that Vision Centre was a result of the bank’s productive partnership with the Ministry of Health, Orbis and Solwezi General Hospital.
“We at Standard Chartered Bank are very excited about the interesting developments taking place here in Solwezi. This new eye centre comes at the right time, especially as Solwezi and the surrounding areas see more people move here to take up employment in the mines,” Mr Okai said.
He said Standard Chartered Bank Zambia has committed $1 million for the partnership with ORBIS in the province, as part of the SiB initiative. Equipment worth $300,000 has been procured for the province, half of which has beeninstalled at Solwezi General Hospital.
Among the equipment which has been supplied to Solwezi General Hospital, is the latest slit LED microscopic lamp to examine eyes, which is the first one in Zambia and among the first few in Africa, a high-powered state-of-the-art microscope for eye operations, ultra-sound machines and an auto-refractor machine.
Okai explained that, under the SiB Zambia programme in 2013, about 240,000 patients, with 45,000 being children, were screened while 10,000 cataract operations were carried out and 20,000 spectacles were donated.
He said SiB was extremely important to the bank because it focuses on investing in eye care projects that will have a long-term impact in areas of high need.

Unnecessary

Giving a statistical overview, Mr Okai said every year in Zambia, Africa and other parts of the developing world, people succumb to unnecessary blindness, which could have been avoided through proper eye services such as eye screening and cataract surgery.
“Statistics show that 90 per cent of blind people live in low-income countries, yet 80 per cent of visual impairment is avoidable like treatable and/or preventable. It is a well-known fact that blindness prevention strategies are among the most cost-effective interventions—that is why Standard Chartered Bank is implementing ‘Seeing Is Believing’ to help reduce the incidence of preventative blindness in Zambia,” MrOkai said.
The bank’s CEO further said SiB is a priority under Standard Chartered Bank’s sustainability agenda which entails long-term investment in communities and enhancing initiatives that will yield demonstrable positive impact on the people.
“As a key financial service provider, this initiative demonstrates that Standard Chartered Bank is, indeed, a responsible company, one that is committed to invest in the communities in which we operate, one that is Here for Good,” he said.
In this joint comprehensive eye health programme, Orbis is working with the Ministry of Health, Solwezi General Hospital, Vision Aid Overseas and Standard Chartered Bank to change the lives of many by bringing dignity, opportunity and the realization of human potential through the gift of sight to those in need and living across the province.

Teams

However, over the next five years, health teams including ophthalmologists, ophthalmic clinical officers and nurses across 10 districts in the province will receive training and the provision of the necessary equipment to provide vital eye care services needed by all communities.
These teams will be tasked with the responsibility of promoting eye health, prevention of blindness and delivering quality and affordable comprehensive eye care services to people in all age-groups.
Generous Mukanga, Orbis coordinator in Zambia acknowledges that early detection of visual impairment along with high-quality eye health services and follow-ups will save the sight of thousands of people every year.
“Visual impairment and blindness can lead to a life with limited opportunities or independence and can affect a country’s productivity and economy,” says Mr Mukanga.
Lene Overland, Orbis Director of Programme in Europe, Middle East and Africa says the five years commitment has been made possible by the cash injection of US$1 million by Standard Chartered Bank through the SiB initiative and that they have been motivated by the tremendous leadership in blindness prevention shown by the Ministry of Health.
Orbis provides the tools, training and technology necessary for hospitals in developing countries to find workable and lasting solutions to save sight. By empowering its partner institutions, Orbis helps them to reach the point where they can provide, on their own, quality eye care services that are affordable, accessible and sustainable to their communities.
At the same launch, Chitalu Chilufya, the Health Deputy Minister said under the Vision 2010, “The Right to Sight,” Government has placed enormous emphasis on working with corporate and social allies in developing all facets of its mandate and is committed to eliminating avoidable blindness in all areas of Zambia.
He said the problem of low vision and blindness continues to haunt the world, despite supersonic advances in medical sciences and treatment regimes.
He was elated to be part of the historic launch in Solwezi where unprecedented mining activities have sprung up in the last 10 years, thereby changing the demographic, economic and social landscape of the province.
The minister said he was witnessing a public private partnership born out of mutual interests for all the stakeholders, noting that when the policies of Government resonate with the objectives of corporate and social stakeholders, the outcome is worthwhile.
“We are here to acknowledge the robust corporate social responsibility programme from Standard Chartered Bank Plc, who have provided US$1 million under the Seeing is Believing initiative, which is supported by ORBIS Africa. It’s clear that Government working with the corporate world and the NGOs can achieve far more than individual uncoordinated efforts,” Dr Chilufya said.
He said Government shall leverage CSR programmes from sound and supportive corporate bodies and align them to national goals. The state will further endeavour to extend a hand of alliance with donor organizations that support common aspirations of the people.
While Government is keen to see a Zambia free from avoidable vision impairments and complications, Dr Chilufya challenged other companies working and living in Zambia to benchmark their CSR programmes to Standard Chartered’s.

Fight

“We have met here to symbolically launch our desire for a world where everyone has right to sight. In more ways than one, the fight against avoidable diseases is not a fight limited to sight and blindness only. The burden of other diseases is equally a national priority.
“This fight is not only for the Government and the corporate world; it’s a fight and war that must be waged from community to community; from village to village,” said the minister who was accompanied by Welani Chilengwe, the ministry’s Director of Clinical Services.
Kudanga Chidumayo, the acting Superintendent for Solwezi General Hospital said the project being launched was a centre of excellence in the field of eye health care.
Since its inception, Orbis with the support from Standard Chartered Bank, has provided technical enhancement to health staff through training such as primary eye care and refraction and procurement of state of the art ophthalmic medical equipment.
Dr Chidumayo said the project which includes identification, treatment and follow-ups, had since January 2013 been implementing other aspects with the focus being on four areas of health systems strengthening and referral, cataract, trachoma elimination and refractive error.
Apart from the latest ophthalmic medical equipment meant for refraction, screening and surgeries, the project has also provided for an optical shop and a refractive unit.
North-Western Minister Nathaniel Mubukwanu, in a speech read for him by Alfred Chingi, the Deputy Permanent Secretary, revealed that the province is among the three provinces with the highest incidence of preventable and treatable blindness in Zambia. The other two are Luapula and Northern provinces.
While the preventable and treatable causes include cataract, trachoma and refractive error, the provincial minister said the investment of $1 million by the bank is being put in the right place at the right time with the right interventions.
Mr Mubukwanu said the outlined provisions that will go with the programme will deliver long-term and lasting solutions to eye health needs of the people in various communities in the province.
He thanked Orbis and its partners for the investment in the critical area of health that remained under-serviced in the province and cited far-reaching benefits, among them, bringing eye care services closer to the people.– Feature courtesy of SUMA SYSTEMS

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