Since 2001, Operation Eyesight has been working to prevent blindness and restore sight in Zambia. We’re working in partnership with the Zambian government to increase access to eye health care services and to reach some of the country’s most remote and underserved communities. Working with our partners, we provide sight-restoring treatment for those in need, regardless of age, gender, race or ability to pay. We also work to prevent blindness by addressing the root causes of blindness, such as providing communities with clean water to help prevent the spread of blinding trachoma.
In 2016, we launched our first Vision Centre-Based Community Eye Health Project (VBCEHP) in Zambia, bringing much-needed eye health services to three underserved compounds of Lusaka. The project established primary eye health care as an integral part of Zambia’s primary health care system. Eye units, equipped with primary eye care equipment, were established at Bauleni, Chawama and Mandevu primary health centres. Thanks to our advocacy efforts, the Ministry of Health also ensured that trained, mid-level ophthalmic personnel were placed at the eye units. These eye units, which have become self-sustaining and continue to provide quality care today, provide services such as eye exams, diagnosis, treatment of minor conditions and referrals for surgery. Operation Eyesight-trained community health workers conduct door-to-door surveys in the community. They screen people for vision problems, identify those in need of eye care services and refer patients to an eye unit or hospital as appropriate. Patients who require surgery or more complex treatment are referred to one of our two partner hospitals, University Teaching Hospital (UTH) Eye Hospital or Lusaka Eye Hospital. We supported UTH, a government hospital, in establishing its eye unit, which is now a Centre of Excellence providing tertiary eye care services to the people of Zambia.
We drill and rehabilitate boreholes in communities in Zambia where trachoma is endemic. Lack of access to fresh water and inadequate hygiene is a significant contributor in the spread of trachoma and other infectious diseases. With access to clean water, people can wash their hands, faces and clothing, and prevent the spread of infection.
Our local team determines the location of proposed boreholes based on a number of factors, including distance to the next closest source of clean water and the ability of the local community to maintain the borehole. In recent years, we’ve shifted our focus from drilling new boreholes to rehabilitating existing, defunct boreholes. The cost savings employed by this method allow us to reach many more communities. To ensure the success and sustainability of our borehole programs, we establish and maintain strong relationships with local governments and the Ministry of Health. As part of this relationship, the Ministry of Health visits each of our boreholes to test the water quality and ensure it is potable. Not only do nearby boreholes significantly reduce the need for women and girls to walk long distances to fetch water, but the availability of potable water also eliminates the need to boil water before use.
Operation Eyesight has successfully eliminated trachoma in the Sinazongwe district, where we first started working in 2001. To date, we have drilled 106 boreholes and rehabilitated 96 boreholes in Sinazongwe. A 2012 trachoma survey conducted in Sinazongwe showed that the district had a prevalence of trachoma of 14.4 percent. The last trachoma survey conducted in 2017 by the Ministry of Health revealed that the current prevalence of trachoma is now less than 2.1 percent. This is attributed to the community members increased access to clean water. It has also been noted that the health-seeking behaviour of community members has improved as demonstrated by the number of people attending outreach screening camps and walking in to access services offered by the eye unit at Maamba General Hospital.
Building on our success in Sinazongwe, we now have projects in four districts in the Central Province: Kapiri Mposhi, Mkunshi, Luano and Nagawbe. Since our work began in these districts in 2018, we have successfully reduced the prevalence of trachoma from Mkunshi and Luano to below 5 percent (i.e., below public health concern level). We continue to monitor these two districts, while intensifying our work in Kapiri Mposhi and Nagawbe to achieve the same result.