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Beyond A Single Story for Vision in Africa

In 2009 Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in a now-famous TED Talk, highlighted the potential issue we face when we tell only a single story about a person or problem. We risk misunderstanding a situation and not understanding the complete picture.

We see this from time to time in our work prioritizing vision health. Sometimes the wins – big and small – get overlooked, and we hear one side of the story. This is often true in Africa. We know the continent experiences challenges when it comes to health issues, but we also know that these challenges are being tackled head on with success, especially when it comes to vision.

In light of Africa Day, a day that celebrates unity, we wanted to highlight several African countries and partners that are uniting the continent to improve vision care:

  1. Botswana: At the end of last year The Ministry of Health and Wellness and the Minister of Basic Education reconfirmed their commitment to screen and treat every school child in the country for eye health by 2021. This will make Botswana the first country in the world to provide eye health screening to an entire generation of school children. The program is in partnership with Peek Vision, a not-for-profit eye health organization.

  2. Rwanda:  Earlier this year, this small East African country became the first low-income country to provide universal eye care to its entire population. The government has partnered with the organization Vision for a Nation (VFAN) to train more than 3,000 eye care nurses based in 502 local health centers, prescribing glasses and referring those with serious eye problems to national clinics.

  3. South Africa: In several rural communities across South Africa, vision care is coming to the people through a pair of travelling hospital trains. The Transnet Phelophepa train is a collaborative effort between several government departments, local and international partners and social and medical organizations and provides a variety of services including vision care. The train has 18 coaches, with a  dedicated vision clinic, and more than 20,000 patients register each year and receive the miracle of good sight. To date, the vision clinic has dispensed more than 500,000 pairs of eyeglasses to change the vision landscape for these rural communities.

  4. Liberia: After a 2017 meeting between President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and EYElliance CoFounders Liz Smith and Jordan Kassalow, the three determined that Liberia’s recent investment in the newly launched Liberia Eye Center was an opportunity to leverage the facility’s impact and expand on those services to include access to eyeglasses. Bringing together the  LV Prasad Eye Institute, OneSight, SightSavers, Our Children’s Vision, Essilor’s 2.5 New Vision Generation, and the New Sight Eye Center, EYElliance established a collaboration that will create a national eye health network which will serve as a road map for multi-sector engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa. Once operating at scale, the initiative will reach 1 million schoolchildren annually and 1.2 million adults living in Liberia’s remote communities.

Working together these countries and organizations are rounding out the story of vision care in Africa. We applaud their efforts to put on center stage to tell a story that the whole world can emulate.

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