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Sightsavers from the field

“How we’ve adapted our eye health projects during COVID-19”

October 2020
A boy having his eyes checked. The ophthalmologist and the boy are both wearing face coverings and there is a protective screen between them.

“The impact of COVID-19 for people with sight loss in Africa and Asia is devastating. While many have been unable to spend time with those closest to them, the pandemic has also prevented them from accessing life-changing eye care treatment,” explains Dr Kola Ogundimu, Sightsavers’ eye health senior global technical lead.

“We know that across the world, 2.2 billion people have a visual impairment, but for at least one billion people it could have been prevented or can still be treated. It has been essential for us to not only restart our eye health programmes quickly and safely, to provide much needed diagnoses, glasses and surgeries, but also to work flexibly to respond to the ongoing health crisis and build back stronger healthcare for the future.”

Hear about our project adaptions from Sightsavers’ staff on the ground

A women smiling to camera.

Tiangay Gondoe

Programme manager
Sierra Leone

Headshot of a women smiling.

Cristina Pires

Programme officer
Mozambique

Headshot of a man.

David Agyemang

Programme manager
Ghana

A woman smiling.

Syeda Asma Rashida

Senior programme officer
Bangladesh

Andre.

Andre Saturnin Cossi Ridagba

Programme officer
Benin

A woman smiling.

Barbara Anang Marok

Project officer
Nigeria

A women smiling to camera.

Tiangay Gondoe, programme manager in Sierra Leone: 

“Life in Sierra Leone is difficult during these times. In addition to the pandemic, prices of basic commodities have increased, making it difficult for the average Sierra Leonean.

“We should be prepared to deal with this new normal and we will take the greatest precautions. Although our eye health operations are still under review, my hopes are that surgeries will commence for patients with negative COVID-19 test results.

“We’re working with the government and collaborating with the National Eye Health Programme manager, and regional managers in eye departments within government hospitals, to train health workers on COVID-19 transmission, symptoms and the risks of carrying out treatments which require close contact with patients.

“This training has led to eye health workers raising awareness and promoting preventative messages to an estimated 500 to 1,000 patients including women, children, and people with disabilities in 16 districts. We’re also providing health workers with PPE and hygiene kits, and monitoring and supporting eye health clinics to ensure staff and patients adhere to social distancing and hygiene measures.”

 

Headshot of a women smiling.

Cristina Pires, programme officer in Mozambique:

“COVID-19 cases are spreading fast, mostly in Cabo Delgado, the capital Maputo and Nampula province, but the public are still ignoring the prevention measures announced by the authorities.

“I would like the eye health programme to recover from this sad situation. All individual prevention measures must be taken by eye health units and eye health staff, as well as patients, to ensure normality in providing eye health services to all those in need.

“We’ve developed protocol to slowly reopen screening camps to identify people with cataracts. We have also developed a training module that occupational therapists will deliver via Zoom video calls to community health workers, which will focus on how to restart camps safely.

“Before the pandemic, our eye health work ensured people with disabilities could access the treatment they needed, so we’ve adapted our projects to ensure they don’t get left behind in the COVID-19 response. We’re working with the Social Communication Institute to make sure people with disabilities receive information on COVID-19 in accessible formats. We’re developing awareness messages of COVID-19 prevention measures and the correct way to use masks, and advertising these through the radio, and in the street by announcing through a megaphone from a car.

“Working with the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Action, we’re supporting distribution of basic food baskets and working to make tip tap buckets for hand washing for people with disabilities and their families. We’ve also purchased two sewing machines for tailors who work at the National Association of People with Disabilities to continue to make face masks following guidance from the ministry of health and Lurio University Medical Sciences School. Around 1,000 face masks have been made and distributed to people with disabilities in rural and remote communities in six districts.

“I hope that eye health continues to be accessible for everyone: women, men, girls and boys and particularly older people who haven’t seen their families for a long time. I hope our eye services reach the most vulnerable people living in remote communities, living far from health facilities with no access to a car.”

Producing face masks in Mozambique

A woman working at a sewing machine wearing a face mask.

Ivone de Fátima Baessa

“I have been at home for 60 days. I started experiencing financial difficulties and had no way to feed my five daughters. During this period, access to services became more difficult, because most of them are suspended. This is a huge challenge for people with visual impairment and those using a wheelchair.

“The most valuable thing I have during COVID-19 is very good training from Sightsavers on how to produce fabric masks according to the World Health Organization recommendation.

“My dream is to have my own sewing machine. This could enable me to work from home and protect my children from the virus.”

A man working at a sewing machine wearing a face mask.

Amade Napire

“I live with my wife and my seven children. I have been a professional tailor since 1968. This year has been a very challenging year. After the closing of schools we lost a lot of customers that used to request school uniforms.

“Sightsavers trained me and my colleague and provided all material to produce cloth face masks. After, we trained two other colleagues. We received two new sewing machines that we used to produce 1,000 cloth face masks using capulana [a sarong worn primarily in Mozambique]. ADEMO is currently preparing the production of masks for its vocational training school and we have been selling to our community.

“On average the production of a mask takes 20-30 minutes, but as I produce it I gain more skill and agility.”

Headshot of a man.

David Agyemang, programme manager in Ghana:

“Life is almost back to ‘normal’ in Ghana. Athough all Ghana’s borders, except by air, are closed to human traffic. Internally, there are no restrictions on business and public health activities are ongoing. Wearing of facemasks is mandatory and handwashing and the use of hand sanitisers are being promoted.

“We’ve been supporting the training of local volunteers including nurses, midwives, laboratory technicians, school health coordinators and doctors’ assistants; in contact tracing, infection prevention control, risk communication and enhanced surveillance for COVID-19. The attendees were also trained in putting on and removing PPE safely, hand washing, and how to prevent and control infections.

“This is a prime example of how our good relationships with partners, which we’ve built over years, and our work strengthening health systems, has enabled us to effectively support the training in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, without being physically present in the field.

“My hope for the neglected tropical disease programme in Ghana is that through the current technical and financial support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and USAID, we can continue to strengthen healthcare systems and processes that are essential to ensure our work is sustainable.”

A woman smiling.

Syeda Asma Rashida, senior programme officer in Bangladesh:

“We usually support around 50,000 surgeries every year but COVID-19 has forced thousands of critical cataract surgeries to be cancelled, which leaves many people in an even more vulnerable situation during the pandemic. We have one of the highest rates of untreated cataracts in the world, so we always have a long list of patients needing surgery. Because of COVID-19 that backlog has grown even larger.

“Through our Right to Health project, which is funded by the UK government through UK Aid Match, we are advising hospitals on hygiene measures, such as installing wash basins outside the entrances and cleaning more frequently, to ensure our programmes are safely restarted.

“Our patient screening eye camps have had to stop because the government restricted all mass gatherings. However, staff at our partner hospitals are communicating with patients by phone who have already been diagnosed as needing surgery and telling them the extra precautions being taken: additional cleaning, as well as using sanitiser and personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, to make the hospital comfortable and safe for any patient. They are helping patients not to fear the hospitals and the response has been really good; it’s going well.

“We’re also focused on making sure staff at our partner hospitals don’t feel scared and are supported. We’re happy that hospitals have taken our advice and are rotating staff so that fewer need to be working at the same time. We are also making sure older staff or those more at risk of COVID-19 do not need to go into the workplace.”

Andre.

Andre Saturnin Cossi Ridagba, programme officer in Benin

“In Benin, life is relatively normal. We do not claim to have defeated COVID-19, but government measures have been working.

“To continue our work to eliminate neglected tropical diseases, including the infectious eye diseases trachoma and river blindness, we have introduced COVID-19 mitigation measures in accordance with World Health Organization guidance. They involve a checklist that covers things such as COVID-19 prevention, social distancing, use of PPE and useful contacts.

“We’ve shared these measures through workshops with everyone involved, including the ministry of health, and due to their success, we are able to resume our activities. At the end of October, we plan to conduct surgeries for people with advanced stages of trachoma in five districts.

“I hope for good days for eye health in Benin – the elimination of trachoma depends on a good eye health system, which we’re working to create.”

A woman smiling.

Barbara Anang Marok, eye health project officer in Nigeria:

“We’ve developed accident prevention messages to be aired on radio which highlight the need for children to avoid using potentially harmful objects while playing. This is really important because children are spending more time at home while schools are closed.

“We’ve also supported the reopening of one of the eye clinics we work with, and helped them provide personal protective equipment to minimise the spread of COVID-19. The clinic is performing surgeries for children who have developed cataracts because of trauma.

“One person who has received treatment at the reopened clinic is nine-year-old Destiny George, who was injured with a hockey stick. His right eye went red and would stream constantly and after a couple of weeks his eye turned white, and his mother Lovina was very concerned. He needed surgery, which usually costs approximately NGN50,000 [about £102], otherwise he would lose his sight. Lovina didn’t have this money but the treatment was free of charge.

We have also adapted our neglected tropical disease programme, to ensure people in Nigeria are treated and prevented from getting trachoma, a painful and infectious eye condition. Find out how we’ve adapted the trachoma programme, training local volunteers go from house to house to distribute medicine rather than how they used to before, distributing to large groups in a central location.

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World Sight Day
A boy smiles as he plays with his toys outside.

“He can go back to school when it resumes without anything stopping him.”

A boy smiles as he plays with his toys outside.

Lovina, Destiny’s mother

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