Developing new, sustainable
solutions for vision care
We seek to provide innovative solutions to address eye health concerns, and have the following primary objectives:
Our Areas of operation
We work across Southern, West, East and The Horn of Africa
The African Eye Institute contributes significantly to the development of public health and eye health through the following focus areas:
Appropriately skilled and equitably distributed human resources for eye health are critical to the delivery of eye health services and the elimination of avoidable blindness in Africa. The healthcare cadres in these efforts need to be supported by community-based workers and teachers in order to deliver an efficient, equitable and accessible service, and we advocate for the appropriate training, recruitment and deployment of relevant cadres. These efforts are implemented through partnerships with international agencies, like-minded global eye health non-profits, government ministries of health, educational and financial institutions, universities and colleges. Legislative, regulatory and professional bodies are also engaged to ensure that healthcare professionals are able to function within the region and are delivering appropriate care to the populations they serve.
The AEI recognises the importance of education
in building capacity to tackle the causes of visual impairment. In Africa,
there is a shortage of optometrists to lead this initiative due to poorly
developed or non-existent local optometry training programs. The AEI, in the
past, has responded to this by developing partnerships with national ministries
and other stakeholders to promote optometry education at selected universities
and colleges. Successful initiatives include: Mozambique (UniLurio), Eritrea
(Asmara College of Health Sciences), Mali (IOTA), Malawi (Malawi College of Health
Sciences, Mzuzu University), Uganda (Makerere University), Cameroon (Yaoundé
School of Nursing), and Kenya (Masinde Muliro University of Science and
The sustainable development of optometry in our countries of operation is part of our goal of workforce development. In many of these countries, optometry as a profession is still new and requires physical and educational infrastructure to see it grow. Optometry development requires the building of infrastructure and moulding of systems and curricula at tertiary institutions. It is seen as a long-term initiative but has already seen success in Malawi and Kenya. By 2017, Malawi had 35 graduates at bachelor level and 68 with diplomas, and to create sustainable systems, graduates were encouraged to pursue postgraduate studies to become lecturers. Kenya had 37 graduates in three years, of whom eight chose to pursue Masters degrees that would enable them to lecture; by 2017, a junior faculty member had been employed from that cohort. The Optometry Development Programme supports gender equality by enabling women to access this field through education and employment opportunities.
Children need healthy eyes to achieve their full potential. As 80% of traditional learning is sight-based, it is essential that children have good eyesight to benefit from their education and development. We recognise that paediatric eye health needed immediate attention with regards to service delivery; education and awareness; the development of workforce and infrastructure; and policy change and guidelines, such as the development of the Standard Guidelines for Comprehensive School Eye Health, which details how to provide children with a sound eye care service delivery programme.
Past successful initiatives include the East Africa Child Eye Health programme, launched in 2012, in which 4 624 256 children (aged 0–15 years) were screened across Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
For the AEI to maximise its impact and ability to deliver eye healthcare to “everybody”, it is necessary to understand who and where assistance is needed. Public health research programmes were conducted in multiple countries to identify the needs of communities, drive more effective policy change, and to assist programme development. In many cases it was found that apart from eye health awareness and service delivery, compliance of patients was also problematic. Initiatives include:
Risk-benefit Analysis for Developing Primary Eye Care Services in West Africa (Ghana), Models of Health Promotion - USAID Zanzibar Research (Tanzania), Spectacle Compliance in Children (Nigeria and Malawi), and Effects of Poverty on Eye Health (South Africa).
Gender equity is a key strategy in our programmes
and is enacted by developing women in the workforce and providing eye health
services to a large proportion of disadvantaged women. This filters into our
child eye health programmes and campaigns too, so that female children are
enabled to receive and participate in a fulfilling education.
Notably, the East Africa Child Eye Health programme achieved gender parity in the services provided – the ratio of girls to boys to receive services was 2 429 821: 2 194 436. This amounts to 52.55 % of girls to 47.45 % of boys having received services.
The AEI has successfully influenced policy on the education and employment of the workforce in the public health system through the implementation of its projects and programs and through joint advocacy with local and international players. Successes include:
Development of the Standard Guidelines for Comprehensive School Eye Health in low and middle-income countries (partnership with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness – IAPB).
Increased government support in funding allocation for optometry scholarships and more positions within the public health system (Uganda).
Creation of optometry posts within the public sector in KZN and Gauteng through the Giving Sight project, supported by Standard Chartered Bank and Seeing is Believing (South Africa).
The AEI and Essilor founded the “Our Children’s Vision” project, a worldwide initiative aligned with the Global Goals for Sustainable Development and the World Health Organization Universal Eye Health Global Action Plan 2014–2019.
The project focused on providing eye health services to children, driving awareness, advocacy and research and creating powerful partnerships to support children’s development, particularly in their education.
In 2017, 14 399 850 children across the globe were screened and 796 992 received spectacles or low vision devices.
Giving Sight to Soweto, Giving Sight to Gauteng We See: These two campaigns were run in collaboration with the Gauteng Department of Health, Standard Chartered Bank and the “Seeing is Believing” campaign. Major achievements of these campaigns were the integration of eye care services into primary healthcare infrastructure; allowing 404 721 people to be screened; the training of 877 existing professionals; the employment of 6 optometrists; and the establishment/upgrade of 10 eye care sites.
The AEI identified a need to start a Child Eye Health project at public clinics in Gauteng, where many children from impoverished families were falling through the cracks because of little or no access to eye health services. Putting food on the table for survival is often the priority in these families, and eye care and glasses are considered unaffordable.
Blindness can be prevented by timely diagnosis and early intervention, but a lack of public awareness about the importance of eye health and of regular eye tests to detect ocular and systemic conditions has resulted in unnecessary sight loss. The African Eye Institute recognises the importance of awareness drives and screening programmes to reach children and communities that for various reasons do not have access to eye health information and services. Knowledge about eye care and available services are shared through public talks, school vision screenings, community events and through the media.
Check back for more on our next life-changing programme.
Sarah trained under the "Seeing is Believing" Mubende Comprehensive Eye Health Project, in which BHVI Africa (now AEI) participated. Her newly acquired knowledge helped her identify Nasolo, an old helpless lady in her village, with a blinding eye condition known as Cataract. Nasolo was able to undergo the necessary surgery to improve her sight. This proved to be life-changing for her. Sarah says that she is grateful to be part of a team that fights needless blindness in the community.
Ate, a school-going student was a beneficiary of the Urban Eye Care Project initiated by FCT - Abuja, Nigeria, funded by "Seeing is Believing" - Standard Chartered Bank. His father, who was trained as a vision screener, was amazed to discover that Ate failed the test. He received a set of glasses which improved his vision drastically. When asked why he took so long to inform someone of his poor vision, Ate said that he thought that this was how everyone saw. "I only complained of headaches and teary eyes." He had had difficulty in reading print and could not see the blackboard. The eye exam changed his life.
Seven-year old Esther was known as a shy girl due to her constantly covering her eyes. Mwanaidi Mshana, a teacher trained by the Seeing is Believing Child Eye Health Project at her school referred Esther to a hospital for an examination. She underwent a cataract operation, refracted post operatively and was issued with her pair of spectacles. She can now see well. Her father encourages all other parents to co-operate with the school and teachers when they advise on the health of the children. He also thanked all the sponsors.
Khanyisa's Grade 2 teacher recognised the need to test Khanyisa's eye sight. The screening was conducted by the school health team from the Gauteng Department of Health and BHVI Africa (now AEI). She was assisted with optometry services and spectacles.
Her mother confirmed that her daughter had trouble with her vision at times but was not aware that this was a big problem. "I'm happy that she now has glasses. I thank you very much. I will make sure she uses them and keeps them safe."