In an unprecedented action for eye health, His Excellency Bola Ahmed Tinubu made a proclamation to further commit, provide unwavering support and improve access to eye health for all and especially the vulnerable people in all communities. He said this while meeting with Professor Andrew Bastawrous, the CEO/founder of PeeK Vision and co-founder of the Vision Catalyst Fund (VCF) on 1 September 2023.
This meeting was facilitated by a delegation of the Federal Ministry of Health led by the Honourable Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Professor Muhammad Ali Pate. Included in his team were Dr Chukwuma Anyaike, the Director Public Health, and Dr Oteri Okolo, the indefatigable Coordinator National Eye Health Programme. Professor Bastawrous was accompanied by Professor Afekhide Omoti, representing the eye health community; Dr Fatima Kyari, the subregional Chair (West Africa) for the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and a member of the Programmes Expert Committee of the Vision Catalyst Fund; Dr Sunday Isyaku, the Nigeria Country Director of Sightsavers International and Mr Omoi Ozovehe, the Nigeria Country Programme Manager for CBM International.
His Excellency the President, narrating a touching story, recalled the promise he made to his mother (of blessed memory) on providing vision care to the less privileged. He was visibly excited about the visit and the potential to elevate eye care services in Nigeria, saying “I am in support of this initiative, and I will encourage the mobilisation of fund and commitment to see this through, to reach vulnerable people all across our country.”
Professor Bastawrous narrating his personal story, said “good vision unlocks human potential; it improves earning, learning and wellbeing for individuals, communities and countries.” He further said, “through the Vision Catalyst Fund, we have secured a donation of 200 million pairs of glasses, and we would like a significant proportion of that to come to Nigeria.” The VCF is a financing mechanism set up to accelerate the development of sustainable national government-led eye health services creating access for entire populations. Further processes and performance impact funds will unlock resources for eye care in Nigeria.
The meeting concluded with presentation of the National Eye Health Policy document to the President by the Honourable Minister, together with the Coordinator NEHP. In the suite of documents are also the Nigeria national eye health survey report, School Eye Health Guidelines, the national primary eye care training trainer and trainee manuals, a summary of WHO’s World Report on Vision, the Lancet Commission on Global Eye Health, and the progress report on a Vision for the Commonwealth. These documents outline policy and operational roadmaps that will ensure eye health remains a top priority in national healthcare planning.
The Honourable Minister, Professor Muhammad Ali Pate affirmed the commitment of the President who reiterated that good eyesight and vision is critical to economic development and growth of our nation. He said, as a policy statement, that eye health will be made available, accessible and affordable to all, through integration at all levels of care – tertiary, secondary and primary healthcare, and not in silos. He stated that the health budget will be increased and a good portion of it will be provided for eye health and vision care.
These policy remarks align with advocacy goals for IAPB’s 2030 In Sight strategy to elevate, integrate and activate, in addressing and scaling up eye health.
Nigeria stands at a vantage point. Over the years, there have been layers and layers of work by eye health practitioners, planners and policymakers. With resources, 8 out of 10 people blind would see today, tomorrow… The work continues. A few minutes after this milestone, the NEHP secretariat swung into full action to strategise operations to make these commitments a reality.
Neil Armstrong, as he first stepped onto the moon in 1969, said “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Today, it feels like we have gotten our giant leap for mankind, for eye health in Nigeria, West Africa, and globally.