Words by Hilary Bugler
Those of us with a cataract would all be jumping at an offer of an operation for £40 if it were in the UK. It’s actually the remarkable cost to the Vale for Africa charity to conduct this operation in Tororo District of Eastern Uganda. Each year a small team of six optometrists travels for a week from Cardiff to Tororo (via Entebbe and Kampala) and tests the eyes of 40 people on average a day.
The people we see are rural poor, and many are subsistence farmers without easy access to any health care, or indeed the means to pay for an eye test (three hefty cheers for the NHS). As well as operations, which are performed in the excellent local Benedictine Eye Hospital (BEH), we also pay for the supply of spectacles. This offers reading glasses for close work (sewing, mechanics, blacksmithing etc.) and prescription ones for those with short or long sight. Everyone gets their eye health examined too, and cases of glaucoma, diabetes and trachoma are referred for treatment.
The project is very simple and makes an astonishing difference to the approx. 1,000 people seen and tested each year. As you’d probably guess, it involves a lot of preparation! The optometrists all travel at their own expense, thus keeping our limited funds available for the people who need it. We work closely with the BEH, the Tororo local health board, and our sister charity Advancement for Community Empowerment in Tororo (ACET). This means we have local eye-health professionals, local interpreters, and facilitators as well as local auditors.
The long-term plan is to help Ugandans supply this service themselves. We’re pleased to say that this is already the case, in part, with all the local support of our clinics. Every year, our team supply eye-health training and have created milestones to help sustain this into the future by supporting local University courses for Optometry. The course, which has been running three years now, has celebrated their first six graduates last August (2018). That’s six brand new opticians for a country with a population of nearly 40 million! We’re pleased to see the building blocks of a new profession in Uganda, being trained in Uganda, but plainly there aren’t enough of them just yet.
Hopefully you have found this article interesting and for more information about the charity and our other projects in Tororo, please look up our website www.valeforafrica.org.uk where you can find a donations link and information on how to get involved.