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A three-year reflection on the Prevention of avoidable blindness project in Rukwa Region, Tanzania

A three-year reflection on the Prevention of avoidable blindness project in Rukwa Region, Tanzania
Published: 16.11.2020
Karsten Paust Project Director
German Committee for the prevention of blindness
Simultaneous translation and demonstration by local teacher
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This is jointly written by Dr. Karsten Paust, Project Director and Ryner Linuma, Project Manager.

The Prevention of avoidable blindness programme started in November 2017 with the first eye camp. At the end of 2018, we had come up with a 10-year plan to set up comprehensive eye health care in south-west Tanzania. The starting point for the project was the rural area of ​​Rukwa region and its capital Sumbawanga.

The main stakeholders of the project are the German committee for the prevention of blindness, the Rukwa Regional Government and the Catholic Church in Sumbawanga Diocese.

The goal of the programme is the training of medical personnel in the field of ophthalmology (assistant medical officer – cataract surgeon, medical officer of ophthalmology, ophthalmic nurses, optometrists), ensuring their long-term commitment to the project, and committing to their long-term training and providing support in terms of resources like equipment (“hard- and software”).

The basic principle of the camps is screening and carrying out surgery. All the work is carried out by the local staff. The experienced local and European nurses and doctors lend support, optimize organizational processes and impart and deepen knowledge in the field of eye care and surgery (“teaching and training”). The idea is to impart knowledge and training to on-ground local staff.

In total up to 4,625 patients have been examined examined and 1,145 eyes have been operated on in the six eye camps since 2017.

During the last three years: 24 ophthalmic nurses, 3 optometrists, 3 cataract surgeons and a medical officer were trained in ophthalmology.

The ophthalmic nurses are spread across the Rukwa region and work in pairs in their primary health care unit. They are equipped with vision chart, surgical instruments for minor surgery and an Arclight ophthalmoscope.

In October 2020 the eye clinic at Dr Atiman Hospital in Sumbawanga was completed. An eye coordinating center has been set up there. 3 cataract surgeons and 6 ophthalmic nurses are going to start their work in eye health care.

Teaching and training in times of the pandemic are supplemented by online teaching via Zoom with the support of the University of St Andrews Arclight Project team (http://med.st-andrews.ac.uk/arclight/training/).

The programme will continue in the neighboring region Katavi starting spring 2021.

We believe that the comprehensive approach of this project with training of  local human resources in eye health care, regular training, equipping and creating work space is a good way to improve eye health care in low income settings.

The economic basis of the cooperation follows the principle of private public partnership.