50 million Nigerians at risk of River blindness

By Gabriel Ewepu

THE International nonprofit organization, Sightsavers Nigeria, Saturday, revealed 30 million Nigerians currently living with disability more likely 27 times to go blind.

The revelation was made known by the Country Director, Sightsavers Nigeria, Dr Sunday Ishaku, in an opening remark at the Inclusive Eye Health, IEH, Close Out Ceremony held in Abuja.

Ishaku said the Programme in Kogi serves as model to other States, and he hoped that it is replicated in other States.

He pointed that there is need for Government to make eye health very inclusive.

The IEH project commenced in December 2019 and ended September 2022 in Kogi State, which was funded by Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Development.

He said: “The inclusive eye health for Kogi State is one of the many programmes we have funded the Disability Inclusive Development Programmes, which is funded by Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Development which used to be former Department for International Development, which is a United Kingdom agency, and it includes various phases of life.

 “We are looking at persons with disability in the aspect of health, education and economic empowerment, which is how persons with disability will earn a meaningful life.

“It is a global initiative, which is been implemented in six countries, and our aim is to see that persons with disability are able to get a blueprint that can be replicated, at least in Nigeria and other parts of the country.

“It is estimated that we have over 1 billion persons with disability across the world. In Nigeria alone, we estimated between 25 to 30 million people and we are hoping that the next national census will give us a clearer picture of number of people.

“You will agree with me that this is quite a large number of population to n the north. We need to improve their livelihoods, current data shows that in improving their livelihood, they are deprived of a lot of things including eye health including education.

“And we are hoping that the Kogi State Inclusive Eye Health Programme is a first step towards enlightening not just government but the people in general about the need for us to make our eye health very inclusive, and that this will not just stop in Kogi State but Kogi to be a model for other states would like to replicate.

“During this project, the project was able to gather some data. I am going to stay one critical data that is very important, which is that people with disabilities were found to be 27 times more likely to have blindness and severe impairment. If you have a disability, you are 27 times  more likely to have visual impairment and blindness.”

The Kogi State Commissioner for Health, Zakari Usman, commended Sightsavers intervention in Kogi State, which brought hope and changed the narrative among the people through the Inclusive Eye Health, IEH, Programme.

Usman said: “Kogi State is looking at inclusive health care in general, and we have learnt so much and I have share experience with some persons from Sightsavers International of how most of the health infrastructure springing up looking at contextually how the health architecture that provides access for people with disability from the learning we had from the infrastructural remodeling as our zonal Hospitals in Kabba and Ankpa.

“So we are not waiting to remodel we are beginning from scratch, thinking about people with disability and all the new structures all the features that makes access to health care easier for people with disability.

“The side of the government particularly the Ministry of Health, the person representing the Albino Foundation was saying something about what the State government will do or is doing?

“Yes, it is a closeout but whatever is within your power, even it is technical assistance, you have already developed capacity within the State. We are already have some kind of partnership with the tertiary institution in my place where we have ophthalmologists.

“And you have supplied bountifully equipment we can use for those surgeries.

“All I can promise is that the government of Kogi State will ensure that this becomes a sustainable venture and scheme.

“And in your programming going forward, I want to also tell you that Kogi State the frontiers are open and also open to newer partnership and collaboration for mutual benefits for people and for your organization.”

In a goodwill message, Lucy Reeve of Sightsavers United Kingdom, UK, said, “It is been a rare privilege and joy to transition and manage this programme.

“It is so inspirational to me, and I’ve learned so much. I had also like to recognize the hospital management board and the facility staff for opening your doors to the accessibility audit and being so open to recognizing that there are improvements that can or should be made.

“And finally, to recognize the organization’s for persons with disabilities, the APDS without you simply there would be no projects and there would not be change. You constantly pushed us to be better.

“Saying your view pushed us to be better but we have also increased your confidence to speak out and to advocate for your rights as human beings above all else, and you are powerhouses and real inclusive champions.

“This is the end of a chapter but we’re still only at the start of the book and saying that the journey of a 1000 mile starts with a single step.

“And I believe that this inclusive IEH project has taken that first step in achieving equitable access to eye health services and for all people regardless of disability or ability to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Also the Founder, Albino Foundation, Jake Epele, said, “Sightsavers, please help us to tell Government to make it mandatory that no child goes into school without his her eyes tested.

“I am not a medical doctor but I know early detection of some of these issues that has to do with eyes if is treated early you will avoid total.

“We need you to be our eyes and voice in our community treated total blindness we need for our community, to speak truth to power to tell the government that we need a policy that makes it mandatory that the child is tested before he goes into classroom.

“Many of you may not know as persons with albinism, we are still struggling, and going to be struggling with our eyes until science gives us true redemption because no matter how smart glasses may look, we still cannot see with glasses.

“Many friends looked at me and asked me ‘Why didn’t you say hello to me? And I am not ashamed to say I couldn’t recognize you.

“This is the problem that we live with. We know that there is an organization called Sightsavers that truly one day, we will stand  and beat our chest and say you have saved not only our sights but our lives.”

Meanwhile, Dr Selben Penzin of Sightsavers Nigeria, presented highlights of achievements for the Inclusive Eye Health, IEH, Programme in Kogi State, which include; Individuals and communities – Training on interpersonal communication – 583 persons; Sessions with community leaders – 64;

Family members of persons with disabilities – 78; Distribution of IEC materials – posters, leaflets, communication cards; Health systems – Audit of 4 facilities. Scores 25%; Renovations in 3 facilities. Scores 70%Sign language training to 10 staff DIGE – 686; and Government and policy – 19-man steering committee; Advocacy capacity building workshops; Advocacy visits activities, and RAAB.

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