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Sightsavers from the field

How six weeks of training improves eye care for all

January 2018
Inuto helps to examine someone's eyes.

“The new skills I’ve learned have come in very useful, especially being a woman working with equipment.”

So joked Inuto Mweemba, an ophthalmic clinical officer at Monze Mission Hospital in southern Zambia.

I met Inuto recently when I was in the country to see for myself and document the work of the UK aid-funded CATCH programme.

CATCH ­– which stands for Coordinated Approach to Community Health – was launched by Sightsavers in 2014 with money from aid-matched funding provided by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). It now operates in five countries: as well as Zambia, it also runs in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Uganda.

Inuto Mweemba.
Inuto is an ophthalmic officer at Monze Mission Hospital.

The idea for the programme came out of our work to fight trachoma, a neglected tropical disease and the leading infectious cause of blindness. When people were being screened at outreach camps for trachoma, Sightsavers was finding many patients who had other eye conditions, particularly cataracts, which cause visual impairment and blindness. But the camps didn’t have the right equipment or facilities to treat these conditions, so CATCH was conceived to ensure people would get the treatment they needed.

I went to Zambia with two colleagues: Moses Chege, who oversees the CATCH programme across the five countries, and one of our ophthalmologists, Dr Tesfaye Adera.  They were there on one of their periodic visits to ensure the quality of the cataract surgeries and other eye care being carried out.

When Moses and I arrived at Monze Mission Hospital’s eye clinic, we found Dr Adera – with the help of Inuto – already examining people who had recently had cataract surgery. They were checking the operations had gone well – which they had – so they were able to report that the clinic is providing high-quality eye care.

Monze Mission Hospital, Monze, Southern Province, Zambia.
Monze Mission Hospital in southern Zambia.

Inuto introduced us to several of her patients.

Paison Kabulansando was beaming after his examination, telling me: “Before the operation, everything was cloudy and I would bump into things and need to be guided. But now I can see again and everything is good.”

He is a gregarious man and volunteered to interpret for us with the other patients, including 82-year-old Simon Bbilika. Simon is the head man of his village, but his cataracts had become so bad he had gone totally blind, so his daughter had urged him to seek treatment at Monze.

Now he can see again, and is telling his fellow villagers with eye problems: “Go to Monze Mission Hospital – they’ll help you.”

Sightsavers’ support for the hospital involves providing specialised ophthalmic equipment, as well as training for ophthalmic staff.

Inuto told me what her job as an ophthalmic clinical officer involves. “I examine patients and refer them for surgery if needed,” she explained. “I also help maintain the ophthalmic equipment, which requires regular upkeep.”

Two years ago, Inuto attended a six-week Sightsavers course in Kenya. Among other things, the course provided specialised training in maintaining the equipment, which can last 20 years if it’s looked after properly. The maintenance engineers at the hospital don’t have the necessary training to look after the equipment, and faults would cause delays in diagnosing and treating patients.

 

Inuto Mweemba assisting Dr Tesfaye Adera with eye tests.
Inuto helping Dr Adera with eye tests.

Inuto said the training she received from Sightsavers has helped to eliminate these hold-ups. “Before, if even a bulb blew in the slit lamp [the high-intensity lamp used to shine light into the eye], we had to wait for one of the ophthalmologists to visit to repair it, and minor issues would mean we couldn’t use the equipment. Now I can do these repairs and keep the equipment in use.”

She said she is grateful to the CATCH programme. “It has really helped us. We’re looking forward to the new ophthalmologist joining us so we can carry on after CATCH finishes.”

The doctor Inuto talked about is currently being trained by the Zambian Ministry of Health, and it’s hoped he will start work at Monze next year. He will be the hospital’s first permanent ophthalmologist and, with the support of Inuto and her colleagues, will ensure the CATCH programme has contributed to long-term, sustainable improvement in eye health care in southern Zambia.

 

Author


Alistair Burnett.Alistair Burnett
Alistair is Director of News at Sightsavers.

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Inuto Mweemba smiling wearing a blue top.

“The new skills I’ve learned have come in very useful, especially being a woman working with equipment.”

Inuto Mweemba smiling wearing a blue top.

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