Global Eye Health Crisis Due To Covid

Pandemic has led to alarming levels of avoidable blindness warns Christian charity

International disability charity, CBM (Christian Blind Mission) is warning that the Coronavirus pandemic is having an alarming impact on the numbers of people living avoidably blind.  75% of the world’s blindness can be treated or prevented. The challenges accessing eye services or treatments during the pandemic, especially in low and middle income countries, are leading to more people than ever needlessly losing their sight.

Dr. Monicah Bitok, CBM Global Inclusive Eye Health Advisor:

“It is very worrying to see the impact of Covid. In countries where the levels of blindness were already shocking, they are now even more alarming. During periods of lockdown over the past 2 years, some eye health units were closed completely, only dealing with trauma and emergency cases. But when these clinics opened, patients were required to do a Covid test before they could access surgery services. Many of these patients cannot afford the journey in the first place from rural areas to the hospital, so to pay for a Covid test on top of journey costs was impossible, and as a result, many people missed out on vital sight-saving operations. For many, the damage has been irreversible. We are now experiencing a huge backlog of patients on top of the already inadequate eye-care services that will take many years and a lot of effort to clear.”

Christian overseas, disability charity CBM (Christian Blind Mission) is running a fundraising appeal to help scale up its work preventing blindness in the world’s poorest places – and wonderfully – donations before 28 April will be doubled. For every £1 donated, a group of generous funders has pledged to give £1 to support sight-saving work around the world, supporting people living in poverty.

The Light up Lives appeal will raise funds to enable people with treatable blindness to see again through sight-restoring surgery, eye treatments, and glasses. Donations will help improve eye health by:

  • improving access to sight-restoring cataract surgery and treatment for blinding conditions like glaucoma.
  • reaching people at risk of blindness in remote areas, far from the nearest eye hospital, helping them access treatment before it is too late.
  • providing glasses and support to people with low vision so they can go to school, earn a living and be active in their communities.
  • equipping hospitals, training local staff and partnering with local organisations to strengthen eye health systems to ensure the maximum long-term benefit.

CBM’s Chief Executive Kirsty Smith explains:

“We’ve seen here in the UK how Covid has caused major delays in delivering urgent health services and the same has happened in low and middle-income countries – where health care systems were already stretched to breaking point – the impact has been devastating. Shockingly, 3 out of 4 people who are blind, don’t need to be. Many of the conditions that cause blindness can be easily treated or prevented, but conditions like cataracts – one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide  – can be treated with an operation that can cost just £24 and take as little as 15 minutes. Devastatingly for millions of people who are living in the world’s poorest places, this treatment is simply out of reach. The Light up Lives appeal aims to reach those people who are living needlessly blind but are unable to access the surgery or treatment that could save their sight. We are so grateful for the group of generous CBM funders, who have committed to double donations towards this appeal, helping us to reach even more people with sight-saving surgery and treatment.”

Biography

Dr. Monicah Bitok joined CBM Global in April 2021.  Monicah has both clinical and public health experience in eye care. Before joining CBM, Monicah worked at the Kenya Ministry of Health where she coordinated various eye care services around clinical ophthalmology and quality assurance. 

As CBM Global’s Inclusive Eye Health Advisor, Monicah is responsible for providing Inclusive Eye Health (IEH) technical advisory support and capacity building to CBM Global partner organisations and Country Offices.

Monicah holds a Master of Medicine degree in Ophthalmology from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and is a fellow of the College of Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa college of Ophthalmology (COECSA).

Case Study – Lena

Photos/film by Winston Chaniwa, © CBM/Afriphoto.

Lena is a mother of 7 and a grandmother, who used to support herself and her family by farming cotton and maize – until cataracts in both eyes caused her to lose her sight, and therefore sadly, her independence.  She no longer lives with her husband; Lena and her three youngest children have moved in with her younger sister and her husband, who look after her. Her biggest hope is to regain her sight so that she can support herself and her children again – like paying for her 18-year-old daughter’s school fees so she can take her school exams.  

Onset of eye problems

“My eye problems started about three years ago….The eye started feeling like it had something in it then I asked one of my children to look at it, assuming that an eyelash might have found its way in there but nothing was found. I stayed with that feeling for quite some time until one day I decided to do an eye test. I closed my right eye with my palm and I could see nothing but darkness with my left eye.”

After a while, Lena noticed that her sight was also deteriorating in her right eye.

 “I just lived with the irritating left eye for a while before I did the eye test and realised that the left eye can’t see anymore. About a year ago, the right eye started deteriorating, I could no longer see things that were far from me. I cannot even see things that are 3m away from me. When I could still see, I used to do cotton and maize farming then sell the products and get money. Now I depend on handouts from relatives.”

Impact on livelihood and independence

 “I used to grow cotton and maize and sell my farm produce. I also used to do gardening (horticulture) then move around in the neighbourhood selling the vegetables, tomatoes amongst other things. I was also into knitting and clay pot making to make ends meet but all this came to an end owing to my sight problems.”

 “Some of the things like walking, I now need assistance with. I can even bump into that heap of sand there because as I am standing, I can’t see anymore up to where I am stepping.  

 “I miss doing my own work from farming, gardening, sewing, knitting, and all else that I have mentioned above. It really hurts me to know that I can’t sew my children’s undone hems anymore. It is quite inconveniencing for both me and the person who is assisting me because they have to stop whatever it is they are doing to help you or they will attend to you when they are done with their own work. All I do is long for the old days where I was independent.”

 “I now spend my days seated like this and it is because of the blindness I developed.”

“I still can go to church but with the usual aid in walking. My church is well aware of the unfortunate incident that has befallen me and they have been supportive through donation of clothes and soap to allow me to still look presentable and my clothes clean.”

 For more information and to donate click here:  www.lightuplives.net

Written By: Beth Taylor

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