•An estimated 15.5% of Kenyans are in need of quality eye care services, ranging from cataract surgery, diabetic retinopathy care, spectacle corrections and even basic ocular allergy treatment and care.
•Community Health Volunteers like Celestine and Betty are making a difference – last year the pair helped more than 5000 people access eye care
The ambassadors and community health workers are often the first point of call in assisting the community to access eye health services.
According to the Ministry of Health, eye care is provided as part of the national health system and can be found at all levels, but not to the same extent in all counties. At the community level (Level 1) eye health services include primary eye care through eye health promotion.
Available services include treatment of minor eye conditions, disease prevention and identification referral and follow up of those found to have eye problems or are blind. This is achieved through Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) who have had prior training in Primary Eye Care. These referrals are channeled through Community Health Extension Workers (CHEWs).
The Fred Hollows Foundation, a non-profit with offices in Kenya, in partnership with governments has been making substantial investments by training eye health champions in identification, referrals and follow up of those found to have eye problems or are blind.
Celestine and Betty live in the same village in Siaya County. They have known each other since childhood and have spent over two years identifying and referring community members to the nearest eye health service.
Celestine and Betty explained how they discover patients with cataract. “During a break while we were in the training funded by The Fred Hollows Foundation with support from the Australian NGO Cooperation Board (ANCP), one of the community members approached us and said, ‘I think from the training and pictorial presentations we’ve just had, you could have cataracts’,” Celestine said.
The patients tried traditional medicines for a while (which did not work), so they put their faith in Celestine and Betty.
After a successful cataract surgery, Celestine and Betty were happy to know the patient could see again. “I felt lots of emotions, but overwhelmingly, I felt happy, I shed tears of joy thanking my maker for the miracle,” Betty said.
This experience energised Betty and Celestine and they decided to start the journey of spreading the good news, going door to door, creating awareness to their neighbouring communities about the treatment and the support they have received from the Australian people.
The community members were so inspired and started requesting Betty and Celestine to refer them to the hospital for treatment. Last year, the two helped more than 5000 people receive treatment. In the past many people could get herbs and remain visually impaired. After the support from FHF and ANCP, many people have had their sight restored.
“After the treatment, I regained normal vision. I was very excited to share this news with my neighbours in the village since we didn’t believe that sight can be restored. We thought that the doctors were going to replace our eyes with a goat eye,” Betty said.
“Back in the village whenever we make stories about eye health, I could confirm to my people that I used not to see clearly in the past but now I’m able to read without the aid of spectacles,” she said.
“Whenever I attend seminar at our local health centre, I testify that the Foundation helped treat my eyes well and I’m capable to read and see without the use of spectacles and we as the beneficiaries of the eye health services present a special gratitude to the organisation,” Celestine said.