HelpAge International and Sightsavers are launching a new three-year project in Tanzania funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The Mwangaza project will support vulnerable communities in the central Morogoro region with affordable and quality eye care services, HelpAge said in a press release.
The project will contribute to the reduction of preventable blindness in a region where over 22,000 people live with varying conditions of blindness. Of these eight in ten are people aged over 60, according to the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children of Tanzania.
“The project aims to tackle avoidable blindness among the predominantly poor, rural communities that would otherwise not have access to simple treatment for such conditions as conjunctivitis, which causes redness and inflammation of the thin layer of tissue that covers the front of the eye,” said Amleset Tewodros, HelpAge International Tanzania Country Director.
Other targeted conditions will include more complex surgeries, such as cataracts or glaucoma.
The project will work within existing eye health facilities in Morogoro region, including one regional referral hospital and nine district facilities, to strengthen capacity.
These district facilities have varying capacity to deliver eye health services. While some have trained personnel and equipment, others lack basic resources. The project will give supplies, specialist equipment and basic consumables to the facilities.
According to Tewodros, the project will work with the established network of older persons monitoring groups and older people’s associations across the region.
“Using such established grassroots networks, we are expecting to refer up to 38,000 men and women, 85% of whom are older people, to health facilities for proper treatments”, she said.
Gosbert Katunzi, Country Director for Sightsavers Tanzania said: “This project will enable us to further strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children to establish a comprehensive health system which links up eye care, education and rehabilitation services in the neediest regions of the country”.
Supply of relevant equipment and consumables, renovation of health facilities and training of health staff to deliver quality eye care services are part of the systems strengthening in the region.
A backlog of avoidable blindness cases is having a devastating effect on families and whole communities. Having lost their sight, people are at risk of losing their livelihoods and their ability to support a family and forge an economically viable life.
Blindness and poor vision have a tremendous impact on quality of life for older persons living in Morogoro as it often lead to social isolation and financial insecurity.
According to the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, the leading causes of blindness in the country are cataracts (50%), corneal blindness (20%) and glaucoma (10%).
The other causes, such as uncorrected refractive errors, retinal and optic nerve diseases, diabetes retinopathy, maculopathies genetic anomalies and albinism, account for the remaining 20%.
While active trachoma is no longer endemic in Morogoro, a backlog of Trichiasis Trachomatous, the fourth stage of the disease where eye lashes turn inwards, persists and will result in irreversible blindness if corrective surgery is not made available. Women account for 60% to 85% of all cases of trichiasis in the community in endemic areas.