Motlanthe to lead struggle to access quality eye health and treatment for Africa’s children

Former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, is to drive momentum for improved eye health in Sub Saharan Africa.

As World Sight Month draws to a close eye health leaders celebrated the appointment of the new ICO (International Council of Ophthalmology) Ambassador for VISION 2020: Sub Saharan Africa.

Motlanthe, was recently inaugurated as Ambassador at an exclusive reception function hosted by non-profit organisation Orbis Africa and the Ophthalmological Society of South Africa at the Hilton Sandton in Johannesburg.

Notably, the significance of the appointment is that within his role as ICO Ambassador for VISION 2020: Sub Saharan Africa, Motlanthe will contribute towards universal eye health. As a signatory to the global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness by 2020 South Africa is under increased pressure to meet its commitment to develop a dedicated national multi-sectoral prevention of childhood blindness programme that is integrated into a strengthened health care system, particularly at a primary health level.

As Ambassador, Motlanthe will help raise awareness of the causes of avoidable blindness and the solutions available. He will also advocate for the resources needed to implement the WHO Global Action Plan (GAP) 2014-2019. The GAP for the Prevention of Avoidable Blindness and Visual Impairment seeks to ensure eye health for everyone (‘Universal Eye Health’) over the next 5 years and its global target looks for a reduction in prevalence of avoidable blindness and visual impairment by 25% by 2019 from the baseline of 2010.

Motlanthe says, “It is unacceptable that most blind children in Africa have lost their sight due to preventable causes. Many of the visually impaired children that live in Africa today need not have lost their sight if they had been diagnosed early and had access to quality treatment and follow-up. I take my role as Ambassador very seriously and am committed to partnering with eye health stakeholders to achieve VISION 2020 and see a continent where no one is needlessly blind.”

Furthermore, to date the rollout of VISION 2020 has been largely inadequate across the Region and in September Orbis Africa convened with the Department of Health and key eye health stakeholders to review the current situation, opportunities and challenges to child eye health in South Africa. From the findings Orbis Africa has recommended that the national Department of Health; strengthens the educational, screening and referral role played by Primary Healthcare (PHC) workers; plans a coordinated response to strengthening the prevention of blindness role of PHC workers; and develops a holistic national child eye health programme with clear national goals, objectives, outcomes, indicators and roles and responsibilities of the various role players.

And to ensure further collaboration with government on improving eye health in the country OSSA President Dr Kgao Legodi reached out to the Deputy Minister of Health Honourable Dr Joe Phaahla to strengthen their partnership. Hon. Dr Phaahla addressed guests at the function endorsing the inauguration of the new Ambassador.

“Preventable blindness in childhood is a key area of interest for OSSA and we have taken definite steps towards improving childhood eye care and encouraging paediatric ophthalmology as a sub-speciality field. By treating and preventing debilitating eye problems in children ophthalmologists are able to have an enormous impact during the course of a child’s life. Blinding ocular conditions in childhood may be less common than adult cataract and glaucoma but in terms of preventing ‘blindness years’ paediatric ophthalmology is critical,” explains Dr Legodi, President of the Ophthalmological Society of South Africa, member of the International Council of Ophthalmology Board of Trustees and American Academy of Ophthalmology Global Alliance Board member.

“Children have a right to survive and to develop to their full potential. This requires that governments, provide support to ensure that all children receive the care they need to secure their optimal health and development, including their visual health and development. As in so many other areas of development, children’s good eye health depends on the environment they live in and the quality of care they receive in their first five years,” says Lene Øverland CEO of Orbis Africa.“

Orbis Africa is a non-profit organisation that works in Sub-Saharan Africa to reduce preventable and treatable blindness and visual impairment on the

The Ophthalmological Society of South Africa (OSSA) promotes the interests of ophthalmology in general and of its members in particular

The International Council of Ophthalmology (ICO) represents and serves professional associations of ophthalmologists throughout the world.

Key facts on Visual Impairment and Blindness include:

•285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision.

•About 90% of the world’s visually impaired live in low-income settings.

•80% of all visual impairment can be prevented or cured.

•Of the estimated 1.4 million children that are blind, 320,000 live in sub-Saharan Africa.

•Approximately 100 000 children in South Africa are blind or vision impaired.

•There are an estimated 9 million blind in sub-Saharan Africa and a further 27 million people are visually impaired. This represents 18.4% of the world’s blind despite the region having only 11% of global population.

•The number of blind in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to increase to double by 2020 unless measures are taken to counter the problem. This could have significant socio-economic impact on communities and countries.

•The major causes of avoidable blindness in sub-Saharan Africa are cataract (50%), glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, childhood blindness, trachoma, and onchocerciasis.

•Uncorrected refractive errors are the main cause of visual impairment.

•The available resources to tackle the problem of visual impairment and blindness in sub-Saharan Africa are insufficient.

Experts have noted that His Excellency, Mr Motlanthe is the perfect Ambassador to help drive better access to quality eye health and treatment for Africa’s children.


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