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INCLUSIVE EYE HEALTH: Nigerians with disabilities are 27 times more likely to go blind – Sightsavers

Sightsavers Nigeria has revealed Nigerians with disabilities are 27 times more likely to go blind.

This revelation was made known by the Country Director, Sightsavers Nigeria, Dr Sunday Ishaku, during his opening remark at the Inclusive Eye Health (IEH) Close Out Ceremony held in Abuja on Wednesday 14th September, 2022.

Dr. Ishaku said Kogi is a pilot state of the project which will serve as model to other States, and Sightsavers is very hopeful that it is replicated in other States.

He called on Government to make eye health very inclusive to accommodate a lot of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the programme.

He informed that IEH project is a 3 year project which commenced in December 2019 and ended September 2022 in Kogi State and was funded by Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Development.

He explained that IEH for Kogi State is one of the many Disability Inclusive Development Programmes, which is funded by Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Development which used to be former Department for International Development, which is a United Kingdom agency, and it includes various phases of life.

“We are looking at persons with disabilities in the aspect of health, education and economic empowerment, which is how PWDs will earn a meaningful life.

He also said that Inclusive Futures is a global initiative, which is been implemented in six countries with the aim of seeing that PWDs are able to get a blueprint that can be replicated, at least in Nigeria and other parts of the country.

“It is estimated that we have over 1 billion PWDs across the world. In Nigeria alone, we estimated between 25 to 30 million people and we are hoping that the next national census will give us a clearer picture of number of people.

“You will agree with me that this is quite a large number of population to the north. We need to improve their livelihoods, current data shows that in improving their livelihood, they are deprived of a lot of things including eye health including education”.

“And we are hoping that the Kogi State Inclusive Eye Health Programme is a first step towards enlightening not just government but the people in general about the need for us to make our eye health very inclusive, and that this will not just stop in Kogi State but Kogi to be a model for other states would like to replicate”.

“During this project, the project was able to gather some data. I am going to stay one critical data that is very important, which is that people with disabilities were found to be 27 times more likely to have blindness and severe impairment. If you have a disability, you are 27 times  more likely to have visual impairment and blindness.”

The close out event witnessed the presence of some dignitaries from Kogi State Government, National Commission for Persons with disabilities (NCPWD), Joint National Association for Persons with disabilities among others.

The Kogi State Commissioner for Health, Zakari Usman in her goodwill message commended Sightsavers intervention in Kogi State, which he said that it brought hope and changed the narrative among the people through the Inclusive Eye Health, IEH, Programme.

Speaking further, he said that Kogi State is looking at inclusive health care in general, and they have learnt so much for Sightsavers representatives through sharing of experience on how most of the health infrastructure springing up looking at contextually how the health architecture that provides access for people with disabilities when they learnt from the infrastructural remodeling as their zonal Hospitals in Kabba and Ankpa.

“So we are not waiting to remodel, we are beginning from scratch, thinking about persons with disabilities and all the new structures all the features that makes access to health care easier for p with disability.

“The side of the government particularly the Ministry of Health, the person representing The Albino Foundation was saying something about what the State government will do or is doing?

“Yes, it is a closeout but whatever is within your power, even it is technical assistance, you have already developed capacity within the State. We are already have some kind of partnership with the tertiary institution in my place where we have ophthalmologists.

“And you have supplied bountifully equipment we can use for those surgeries”.

“All I can promise is that the government of Kogi State will ensure that this becomes a sustainable venture and scheme”.

“And in your programming going forward, I want to also tell you that Kogi State the frontiers are open and also open to newer partnership and collaboration for mutual benefits for people and for your organization.”

Lucy Reeve of Sightsavers United Kingdom, UK in her remark said “It is been a rare privilege and joy to transition and manage this programme.

“It is so inspirational to me, and I’ve learned so much. I had also like to recognize the hospital management board and the facility staff for opening your doors to the accessibility audit and being so open to recognizing that there are improvements that can or should be made.

“And finally, to recognize the organization’s for persons with disabilities, the APDS without you simply there would be no projects and there would not be change. You constantly pushed us to be better.

“Saying your view pushed us to be better but we have also increased your confidence to speak out and to advocate for your rights as human beings above all else, and you are powerhouses and real inclusive champions.

“This is the end of a chapter but we’re still only at the start of the book and saying that the journey of a 1000 mile starts with a single step.

“And I believe that this inclusive IEH project has taken that first step in achieving equitable access to eye health services and for all people regardless of disability or ability to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Also the Founder, The Albino Foundation (TAF), Jake Epele, said, “Sightsavers, please help us to tell Government to make it mandatory that no child goes into school without his her eyes tested. When we were young, testing in schooling was compulsory”

“I am not a medical doctor but I know early detection of some of these issues that has to do with eyes if is treated early you will avoid total”.

“We need you to be our eyes and voice in our community treated total blindness we need for our community, to speak truth to power to tell the government that we need a policy that makes it mandatory that the child is tested before he goes into classroom”.

“Many of you may not know as persons with albinism, we are still struggling, and going to be struggling with our eyes until science gives us true redemption because no matter how smart glasses may look, we still cannot see with glasses”.

“Many friends looked at me and asked me ‘Why didn’t you say hello to me? And I am not ashamed to say I couldn’t recognize you”.

“This is the problem that we live with. We know that there is an organization called Sightsavers that truly one day, we will stand  and beat our chest and say you have saved not only our sights but our lives.”

Meanwhile, Dr Selben Penzin of Sightsavers Nigeria, presented highlights of achievements for the Inclusive Eye Health, IEH, Programme in Kogi State, which include; Individuals and communities – Training on interpersonal communication – 583 persons; Sessions with community leaders – 64;

Family members of persons with disabilities – 78; Distribution of IEC materials – posters, leaflets, communication cards; Health systems – Audit of 4 facilities. Scores 25%; Renovations in 3 facilities. Scores 70% Sign language training to 10 staff DIGE – 686; and Government and policy – 19-man steering committee; Advocacy capacity building workshops; Advocacy visits activities, and RAAB.

In the project, Sightsavers worked with Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) such as Advocacy for Women With Disabilities Initiative (AWWDI), Haly hope Foundation and The Albino Foundation (TAF). Through the project, they created community champions among persons with disabilities who led the engagement of persons with disabilities in the 3 local government where the project covered. There was a lot of milestones from these champions such as discovering a 21 years old girl with cognitive disability who was looked up at home because her mother thought that she would be safe going to school.

OPDs including JONAPWD National President Representative Stanley Onyebuchi took turn to appreciate Sightsavers for the project, and urged them to extend it to other part of the state and all states of the Federation.

TQM learnt that the project also involved training of Health practitioners on disability inclusion and sign language interpretation.

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