Today was the first day of the ORBIS-sponsored 2nd Annual East African VISION 2020 Workshop, held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Participants from Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, Sudan, Burundi and Djibouti were present to discuss strategies to implement national VISION 2020 plans in each of their countries, as well as to collaborate with each other to improve eye care service delivery and quality in East Africa.
The day opened with an address by Dr. Donan Mmbando, director for preventive services of the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. He called upon the participants to come together and pool resources to alleviate the burden of preventative blindness in East Africa.
Erwin Temmerman, director of the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital also gave an opening address, urging the participants to revisit the goals from the conference last year and build upon the lessons learned from that experience. He also highlighted the increased participation this year, with Burundi, Somalia, and Sudan participating for the first time.
Dr. Colin Cook, project manager, Christian Blindness Mission and Dr. Paul Courtright, co-director, Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology, moderated the first day of the conference. The first item on the agenda was to review the major themes and action points from last year’s workshop. These included incorporating national VISION 2020 plans into national government health plans, building partnerships and collaboration between the East African countries, and developing district-level VISION 2020 plans. Each country shared their progress over the past year. By the lunch break, several strategies were outlined to continue to work towards these goals
The afternoon provided a time for representatives from each country to talk more in-depth about the status of their national VISION 2020 plans, and their strategies for the future. There was a wide range of progress in implementation of the plans amongst the different countries, but several issues held strikingly constant throughout: the high incidence of preventable blindness, especially the backlog of cataract surgeries, and the lack of infrastructure and human resources, especially in rural areas. A few facts stood out when listening to these talks: in all of Burundi (population 7.5 million), there are a total of five ophthalmologists; in Ethiopia, there is one ophthalmologist per million people; in Southern Sudan, hospital infrastructure is almost non-existent. However, the participants kept a serious yet optimistic tone, and were not discouraged by the challenges they face.
Tomorrow, the conference will hear from speakers that will turn the discussion to looking to the future with specific strategies designed to face the challenges posed by the speakers today.
Submitted by Rebecca Saxton-Fox in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania