12 September 2011
All eyes are on Kitwe Central Hospital in Zambia today (Monday 12 September) with the official opening of its new Paediatric Eye Care Centre, thanks to a partnership with international sight-saving organisation ORBIS. This new facility will enable Kitwe’s existing Eye Department to improve its capacity to care for children’s eye health in the region. The centre was opened by Zambia’s Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Dr Peter Mwaba and Larry Benjamin (ORBIS Trustee and an internationally respected consultant ophthalmologist).
Since 1982, non-profit organisation ORBIS has been working to prevent people around the world going needlessly blind. With a direct link between the incidence of blindness and poverty, sub-Saharan Africa carries the heaviest burden - 23% of the world’s blind (India has 19% and China 13%). “In terms of global blindness alleviation, Southern Africa is a priority region,” said Lene Øverland, Director of Programme for ORBIS Europe, Middle East and Africa. “This is why we have committed to developing ten paediatric eye care centres here in the next ten years. The Kitwe clinic is the first and we are proud of the progress made so far.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) up to 60% of infants die within two years of becoming blind, yet - in about half of cases - childhood blindness could be avoided if the right care was available. “We are not only preventing children going blind, we are saving lives,” said Dr Asiwome Seneadza, Head of Kitwe Central Hospital’s Eye Department. According to Seneadza, the most common blinding conditions they treat at Kitwe are paediatric congenital cataract, glaucoma and uncorrected refractive error.
Currently Kitwe Central Hospital is the only tertiary facility offering ophthalmic services in the northern region of Zambia – serving a population of nearly 9 million people and 4.5 million are children. Dr Seneadza has been head of the Eye Department for the past 11 years and under his leadership services have been expanded at a both tertiary (high hospital care) and community outreach levels. The new Paediatric Eye Care Centre has eight beds and facilities for diagnosis, surgery, medication, low vision training and refractions. Its team of eight staff includes paediatric ophthalmologist Dr Chileshe Mboni.
ORBIS’s support at Kitwe’s Eye Department includes the provision of surgical equipment, building the capability of the existing healthcare system by training medical staff and developing community outreach programmes to ensure children in need are identified and given the best possible care quickly. ORBIS has provided much needed, state-of-the-art equipment for the operating room so that the tools are available to provide world-class care. In addition to various surgical and diagnostic items there is a brand new anaesthetic machine to help ensure the highest safety standards during surgery on children. The vitrecor machine allows for the latest techniques for paediatric cataract procedure to be employed to achieve the best surgical outcomes. ORBIS has also refurbished the paediatric ward to make it more child-friendly so that patients and their parents can stay there more comfortably.
ORBIS and Kitwe Central Hospital have also partnered with Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology (KCCO) to develop the referral and follow up pathways of children accessing services. Ariel Phiri has been employed as the Childhood Blindness Co-ordinator.
ORBIS secured funding for Kitwe’s Paediatric Eye Care Centre’s first year from the Jersey Aid Overseas Commission and other donors.
Far from being a luxury, experts agree that paediatric eye care gives a significant return to society; childhood blindness is estimated to account for a third of the total economic cost of blindness. “Restoring a child’s sight gives one of the best returns on medical investment,” says Øverland.
The team at Kitwe is also benefiting from ORBIS’s mentoring and training programmes. ORBIS has an award-winning telemedicine programme Cyber-Sight which enables the Kitwe medical staff to connect with their peers in other countries. From 11 to 15 September UK based consultant ophthalmologist Larry Benjamin and nursing sister Anne-Marie Ablett will be doing further training with the Kitwe team as part of ORBIS’s Volunteer Faculty.
“We are very excited about the partnership and want this Paediatric Eye Care Clinic to be the best in Africa,” said Dr Seneadza.
More about ORBIS:
ORBIS is a non-profit organisation committed to saving sight worldwide. It has been active in 88 countries since its inception in 1982. ORBIS uses flagship tools such as the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital, a mobile ophthalmic training hospital on-board a DC-10 airplane; Cyber-Sight, an award-winning online telemedicine mentoring and teaching resource; and over 450 expert medical volunteers, to bring quality eye care and training to its partners in developing countries. To date ORBIS has enhanced the skill of over 260,000 health care professionals and helped establish services that have provided quality eye care to more than 12 million people.
ORBIS opened its first Africa programme office in Ethiopia in 1999 and its Southern Africa office in Cape Town in late 2010. The ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital has visited numerous African countries including Ethiopia, Uganda, Ghana, Cameroon, Tanzania, Mali, Malawi, Botswana, Kenya and very recently Nigeria. Since 2010 ORBIS has been working in Zambia and South Africa to develop dedicated paediatric eye care centres. ORBIS is working closely with the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town to share knowledge and skills as well as develop training opportunities for African doctors throughout the continent.