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Sightsavers Reports

“If you change just one person’s life, it means a lot”

Selben is an ophthalmologist who works for Sightsavers in Kaduna, Nigeria. She manages our programmes and makes sure people – especially children – are treated for potentially blinding eye conditions.

Selben smiles with a group of health staff in Nigeria.

“I’ve worked for Sightsavers for 14 months. Why do I love it? Not every day is the same.

Some days are quite routine and you just come, do your work and go. Other days are field work days, so they involve travel, several hours into the field, monitoring activities, school eye screenings or going through surgical data from the hospitals.

We visit patients in their homes to see how they are faring. Every day is different.

A scene from Kaduna in Nigeria, showing a dry, dusty landscape with sparse greenery. Two women carry water on their heads.

“Nigeria is very large in terms of both land mass and population, and it is very different from the extreme north to extreme south. In southern parts of the country, there are a lot of eye health hospitals, but in the north, where I work, there are fewer. This means there can be challenges.

In the north, many people live in villages and towns far away from the state capital, so they don’t have easy access to eye health hospitals. The distance and the travel adds to the problems. Then there’s the financing. The average cost of eye health, when you include the cost of transportation and other indirect costs – lot of people are not able to afford it.

In Kaduna State where I am, there are three secondary eye health hospitals equipped to treat the children. Other states like Zamfara and Sokoto have just one hospital.

 

A group of children from Kaduna in Nigeria gather around the village well.

“How does this affect people? It can be particularly hard for children. If a child has untreated cataracts, it has a profound impact: it affects their emotional state, their social interactions. In the long-term it affects the economy and productivity of these children and their families.

To address these issues, People’s Postcode Lottery is helping to fund the North-West Nigeria Child Eye Health Initiative in Sokoto, Zamfara and Kaduna. It’s aimed mainly at children under 16, to provide access to good-quality eye health. We provide eye screenings for school children, and we train school teachers to carry out the screenings. Any child who fails the test is referred to the district hospital for treatment.

A trainer teaches a classroom of teachers about eye care. He wears a T-shirt saying 'Thanks to players of People's Postcode Lottery'.

“We also train primary healthcare workers to identify children in their community with eye problems so they can be referred to hospital. We equip these hospitals with the appropriate technology to treat children with eye issues.

In the past year, from 2018 to 2019, we have been able to screen more than 290,000 children for vision impairments. We’ve also dispensed glasses to almost 800 children to help them in school, and we’ve helped to provide cataract surgery to 395 children.

Before this project started, I think there was very little awareness of cataracts in children, and the causes and the treatment. A lot of people in these areas attributed cataract to a spiritual problem, a spiritual curse.

Now, because we’ve created a lot of awareness through posters, flyers and radio programmes, more people are becoming aware of the causes of cataracts and the fact that it is not the child’s fault or the parents’ fault. It’s something that could happen to any child at any time. And it is very treatable, especially if it’s detected early.

A child in Nigeria has their eyes checked for cataracts.

“What I’ve noticed among the older children is that after being treated, they always tell me they are happy to go back to school. School and education is very important to them. Once they have their sight restored they just cannot wait to get back to school.

Without People’s Postcode Lottery I’m not sure we would have been able to achieve all that we’ve done. We have a lot of children that have benefited from this. If you just change one person’s life, it means a lot.”

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Selben smiles with a group of trainers in Kaduna, Nigeria.

“Eye health is not just about the hospitals and the doctors. Teachers, parents – everybody has a role to play.”

Selben smiles with a group of trainers in Kaduna, Nigeria.

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