The Fred Hollows Foundation and Novartis Pharmaceutical launch eye health programme to tackle avoidable blindness

The Fred Hollows Foundation and Novartis Pharmaceutical, have launched the ‘Integrated Eye Health Program’ for blindness prevention in Kenya. The program, which is part of an ongoing partnership to tackle avoidable blindness, aims to improve the accessibility of eye health services by conducting comprehensive eye health programs with a special focus on cataract, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

The program will educate over 400, 000 people on eye diseases and screen at least 40, 000 patients, while prioritizing the most vulnerable and marginalized communities.

“The Ministry of Health estimates that 15.5 percent of Kenyans need quality eye care services, ranging from surgeries, treatments, and spectacle corrections, but only about a fifth do have access to eye health services. We are working to change that in partnership with The Fred Hollows Foundation and the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) by expanding equitable access to eye care in remote communities in Kenya,” said Dr Michael Gichangi, Head of Ophthalmology at the Ministry of Health (MoH).

Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a near or distance vision impairment. In at least 1 billion – or almost half – of these cases, vision impairment could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed. The leading causes of vision impairment and blindness are uncorrected refractive errors and cataracts. Most people with vision impairment and blindness are over the age of 50. However, vision loss can affect persons of all ages.

“In nine out of ten cases, blindness and vision impairment can be avoided when addressed and treated early. But it all starts with educating people. We can drastically reduce the chances of someone going blind if they have the right eye health knowledge, and get their eyes tested regularly, said Ms Jane Ohuma, Country Manager, Kenya and Rwanda, The Fred Hollows Foundation.

According to the IAPB 2020 Vision Atlas report on Kenya, there were an estimated 3.9 million people with vision loss. Of these, 290,000 people were blind.

Glaucoma has been identified as another leading cause of vision impairment. According to the WHO, 78 million people have glaucoma with 90 percent of glaucoma cases going undetected in developing countries. It was estimated that more than 11 million individuals were bilaterally blind due to glaucoma in 2020 and the number will likely increase to 111.8 million individuals by 2040.

“The eye diseases under scope in the program cataract, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, are often preventable, yet many people suffer permanent blindness due to lack of education. Together with the Fred Hollows Foundation we are committed to help strengthen eye-care in Kenya to improve people’s lives,” said Anthony Mwangi, Head of Novartis East Africa Cluster

To educate communities on eye health, the Integrated Eye Health in Kenya project has rolled out a variety of online and offline initiatives such as banners, SMS blasts, TV and radio ads, as well as in-person events across the country.

In collaboration with local eye hospitals, the program also supports free eye screening where doctors and ophthalmic professionals identify patients with eye diseases and provide the necessary guidance and referral.

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