Umtata, South Africa,8 October 2012: From the 7th to 11th October 2012, the Brien Holden Vision Institute is embarking on a national road trip across South Africa called Drive for Sight.
Run concurrently with World Sight Week Celebrations, the Institute visited its major eye health projects across South Africa (Durban, Umtata, De Aar and Soweto), screening and educating school-children and communities about the importance of eye health. Together with the Department of Health from each region, over 1000 community members and school-children were screened, and provided with spectacles, reading glasses and referral letters.
After a successful Durban stop, the team moved on to Umtata where they screened 360 community members, and provided 195 community members with reading glasses. Two weeks prior to the event, optometrists from the department of health and the Brien Holden Vision Institute visited Jonguhlanga J.P School in Umtata and screened 264 school children. Sixteen of these children were provided with spectacles which were presented to them at the Drive for Sight event in Umtata Town Hall.
“It was wonderful to not only screen community members but to provide children with glasses that will have a hugely positive impact on their lives,” said Professor Kovin Naidoo, the Global Programs Director for the Brien Holden Vision Institute. “The children will now be able to see the blackboard, will be able to read and write and participate fully in all education opportunities,” he said.
Six-year-old Ayabonga is one of the many children who suffer from poor vision. As a child with albinism, Ayabonnga was identified by a school care giver as a child who would have an eye problem. “He wasn’t doing very well at school and couldn’t see colours,” said his mother, Harriet. “Although he never complained about poor vision, a school nurse identified he had a problem, and he was taken to Jonguhlanga for screening by the Brien Holden Vision Institute and DoH as a priority case.”
After a proper screening, a pair of prescription spectacles was manufactured for Ayabonga, which he received on the day of the event. “It was amazing,” said Harriet. “He told me he could see and he gave me a huge smile,” she said. “I am happy for my son.” This is exactly the result the Brien Holden Vision Institute hopes to achieve. “Our business is to promote eye health for everyone everywhere. At the Umtata event, we had children from the age of six to adults of 80 years and plus. Uncorrected refracted error has a huge impact on the lives of our people. They fall out of employment or lose out on education opportunities simply because they cannot afford an eye exam or a pair of spectacles. The impact of avoidable blindness is hugely negative,” Prof Naidoo said.
Noluntu Mtshwane, the Provincial Non-Communicable Disease Manager of the Eastern Cape Department of Health said this was a wonderful day for the Department of Health and the community members. Our partnership with the Brien Holden Vision Institute has been strengthened today, as people have not only been screened, but children also provided with spectacles. This was a very successful event for us and the Institute,” she concluded.
Professor Naidoo agrees. “The lack of eye health awareness in South Africa has motivated us to embark on this tour,” explained Professor Kovin Naidoo. “More than 13 million South Africans require vision correction, but accessing the small amount of optometrists working in the public sector can be a challenge,” he explained.
“Without an eye examination and the correct treatment visual impairment becomes a burden to families and society. “The obvious cost is not just to the family, but also to the wider community, where lack of employment and education contributes to the downward spiral of economic disadvantage,” he said.
“We hope, through this tour, to raise awareness and encourage people to take control of their visual health,” he said.
The Brien Holden Vision Institute team has now departed for De Aar, after which they will visit conclude their Drive for Sight in Soweto.