The March 2023 opening of the new operation theatre at the eye unit at Iten County Referral Hospital in Elgeyo-Marakwet County, Kenya was a milestone for the entire community, bringing patients living in surrounding areas more access to advanced eye health care than ever before.
It was made possible through partnership between Operation Eyesight and Kenya’s National Ministry of Health and the County Government of Elgeyo Marakwet.
It shows what’s possible through partnership with governments and health systems in Kenya and our other countries of work.
Our President & CEO, Kashinath (Kash) Bhoosnurmath, was recently in Kenya to attend the facility’s grand opening. He had a chance to sit down with Elgeyo-Marakwet’s Governor, the Honourable Mr. Wisley Rotich to talk about what the facility means for patients and families.
Kash: What impact is the Iten Eye Unit having in the lives of residents?
Governor: Before Operation Eyesight constructed the Iten Eye Unit in 2021, community members had to travel more than 300 km to access eye care services. This presented a significant barrier to accessing care, particularly for children and families facing economic hardship. A child with an untreated eye condition cannot thrive, and it is worse when their eye problem is a genetic condition or when the entire family has eye problems.
Today, thanks to the generosity of donors, eye health care is available right here in the community. The new operation theatre at the eye unit means more patients than ever before have access to sight-restoring eye surgery, closer to home.
Kash: This year, Operation Eyesight is celebrating its 60th anniversary. We’re thriving because of the generosity of donors and the support of partners like Kenya’s Ministry of Health. What role do donors play in helping make advanced eye care accessible to communities?
Governor: We sincerely thank Operation Eyesight and its donors for their support financing the development of the operation theatre. It is the start of a new chapter for the community.
Thanks to donor support, we are also able to purchase other equipment, like an eyeglass edger, which will help staff provide eyeglasses to patients and families in the community at a low cost. For many patients with vision impairment due to refractive error, having the right pair of prescription eyeglasses can be life changing. Sadly, the cost of prescription eyeglasses has in the past been a barrier for many patients. This new equipment will change all that.
Together, we are bringing more than eye care to our people; we are bringing dignity. For many children, quality vision care means the ability to read, receive an education and end the cycle of poverty.
Because of Operation Eyesight’s work, life will not be the same in our community. We appreciate the donors worldwide who support us. For generations and generations, it will be known that Operation Eyesight supported us.
Kash: What role does partnership play in making eye health care accessible in Kenya?
Governor: Partnership between Operation Eyesight and Kenya’s government means that your team’s impact will be sustainable in the long-term.
The county government will sustain what Operation Eyesight has set in motion, because revenues generated by the eye unit will be re-invested to support screening and outreaches, and eventually we aim to declare all villages in Elgeyo-Marakwet County as Avoidable Blindness-Free.
My government has mobilized resources for medical camps in the community where people are diagnosed and treated early. Additionally, we are planning to fully equip Iten County Referral Hospital with diagnostic equipment, stock medical supplies and, most importantly, we are ensuring there is a timely supply of consumables and medicines. I would like to automate Kenya’s Health Management Information System to manage this; it’s an area we are seeking support from our partners.
With the help of partners like Operation Eyesight, we are improving the lives of people living in Elgeyo-Marakwet County.
Kash: What’s your vision for eye health in Kenya?
Governor: I grew up in a village and I have first-hand experience of poverty and its effect on people’s health. I have seen families depleting all their savings due to medical bills. My vision as the Governor is to address poverty and increase access to health. As an economist, I want to reduce unnecessary suffering, unnecessary costs due to medical bills and promote income from agriculture. I would like to increase the number of health centres and develop 20 modern health facilities in the county and improve the quality of health services. This will help reduce poverty levels and eventually eradicate poverty.
When I was previously Deputy Governor, and now in my current role as Governor, I have witnessed Operation Eyesight’s work in Kenya and its impact in communities across the country.
Our vision is to screen all people in the county for eye health conditions and eventually declare every village in Elgeyo-Marakwet as Avoidable Blindness-Free, that is free of undiagnosed and untreated vision loss.
Kash: What’s next for eye health in the community?
Governor: Eye health starts in the community, before a patient shows up in a clinic or hospital. We know that eye health doesn’t happen in isolation but is connected to a range of other determinants of health. That’s why I want to equip Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) to conduct even more eye health screenings at the community level and improve maternal and child health services.
We are lucky that some of our CHVs have been trained to conduct eye screening. We will continue working with them to scale up eye care services. Primary health care workers and eye unit teams have also been trained in primary eye care by Operation Eyesight and will help to screen people at the community level.
We are using an “adopt a village model,” where a village will be financially supported by well-wishers in an area. CHVs working in the community will help us to access more patients and embrace innovation to provide door-to-door screening services in the community.
The County now has a Memorandum of Understanding with Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital that helps to check quality of services at the hospital, and with Moi University that supports in training health workers.
In many ways, our work is just beginning. However, I am confident that together we can build on our success to date and continue to transform communities through the gift of sight.