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Kitwe Central Hospital & ORBIS open Paediatric Eye Care Centre

All eyes were on Kitwe Central Hospital in Zambia (Monday 12 September) with the official opening of its new Paediatric Eye Care Centre, thanks to a partnership with international sight-saving organisation ORBIS. This new facility will enable Kitwe’s existing Eye Department to improve its capacity to care for children’s eye health in the region and is in line with the hospital’s commitment to Vision 2020, a global effort to prevent avoidable blindness by 2020. The centre was opened by Mr Donald Mtine, Kitwe’s District Commissioner and Dr Larry Benjamin (ORBIS Trustee and an internationally respected consultant ophthalmologist).

Mr Mtine said that approximately one percent of Zambians are blind and the Government is committed to the fight for sight. “With this clinic we will, for the first time in Zambia, be offering a comprehensive child eye care service,” said Mr Mtine.

Since 1982, non-profit organisation ORBIS has been working to prevent people around the world going needlessly blind. With a direct link between the incidence of blindness and poverty, sub-Saharan Africa carries the heaviest burden – 23% of the world’s blind (India has 19% and China 13%). “ORBIS has committed to developing ten paediatric eye care centres in sub-Saharan Africa in the next ten years,” said Dr Benjamin. “Kitwe is the first and we see it as a model to roll out elsewhere. It certainly is an excellent project with a hard-working and dedicated staff.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) up to 60% of infants die within two years of becoming blind, yet – in about half of cases – childhood blindness could be avoided if the right care was available. “Early intervention is essential,” said Dr Benjamin. “With young children there is a small window of opportunity when sight can be restored; if we miss that opportunity the child may be blind or partially sighted for ever.”

According to Dr Asiwome Seneadza, Head of Kitwe Central Hospital’s Eye Department, the most common blinding conditions they treat at Kitwe are paediatric congenital cataract, glaucoma and uncorrected refractive error.

Currently Kitwe Central Hospital is the only tertiary facility offering ophthalmic services in the northern region of Zambia – serving a population of nearly 9 million people and 4.5 million are children. Dr Seneadza has been head of the Eye Department for the past 9 years and under his leadership services have been expanded at a both tertiary (high hospital care) and community outreach levels. The new Paediatric Eye Care Centre has eight beds and facilities for diagnosis, surgery, medication, low vision training and refractions. Its team of eight staff includes paediatric ophthalmologist Dr Chileshe Mboni.

ORBIS’s support at Kitwe’s Eye Department includes the provision of surgical equipment, building the capability of the existing healthcare system by training medical staff and developing community outreach programmes to ensure children in need are identified and given the best possible care quickly. ORBIS has provided much needed, state-of-the-art equipment for the operating room so that the tools are available to provide world-class care. In addition to various surgical and diagnostic items there is a brand new anaesthetic machine to help ensure the highest safety standards during surgery on children. The vitrecor machine allows for the latest techniques for paediatric cataract procedure to be employed to achieve the best surgical outcomes. ORBIS has also refurbished the paediatric ward with colourful murals on the walls to make it more child-friendly so that patients and their parents can stay there more comfortably.

ORBIS and Kitwe Central Hospital have also partnered with Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology (KCCO) to develop the referral and follow up pathways of children accessing services. Ariel Phiri has been employed as the Childhood Blindness Co-ordinator and is tasked with ensuring children with eye problems can access the treatment they need quickly and efficiently.

ORBIS secured funding for Kitwe’s Paediatric Eye Care Centre’s first year from the Jersey Aid Overseas Commission and other donors.

Far from being a luxury, experts agree that paediatric eye care gives a significant return to society; childhood blindness is estimated to account for a third of the total economic cost of blindness. “Restoring a child’s sight gives one of the best returns on medical investment,” said Dr Benjamin.

The team at Kitwe is also benefiting from ORBIS’s mentoring and training programmes. From 11 to 15 September Dr Benjamin and UK based nursing sister Ann Marie Ablett are doing further training with the Kitwe team as part of ORBIS’s Volunteer Faculty. The Kitwe staff can also connect with their peers in other countries through ORBIS’s award-winning telemedicine programme Cyber-Sight.

“We are very excited about the partnership and want this Paediatric Eye Care Clinic to be the best in Africa,” said Dr Seneadza.

To find out more about ORBIS visit
Photos by Yazeed Kamaldien

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