Like many developing countries, Ethiopia currently has no routine vision screening programme, and many children drop out of school early due to needless vision impairment. Recent advances in technology have made affordable vision screening a practical proposition, and screening projects in other developing countries have shown good results. Accordingly, SENTigray with Dr Usha Dhanesha, a UK-based doctor in optometry specialising in paediatrics, ran a pilot project in 2016 screening 1600 children in Mekele, Ethiopia, and around 10% of those screened were prescribed spectacles, enabling their sight to be restored to normal. A few were diagnosed with more serious clinical needs, which were also addressed.
SENTigray submitted a proposal to a major donor in 2017 for screening 16,000 children, to demonstrate the practicality of upscaling the pilot; the eventual aim being to screen all children in the Tigray region, and by restoring sight to those needlessly impaired, ensure equal access to education for all, in line with WHO and UNESCO targets. Prior to approving such a project, the donor requested a feasibility study, which has just been completed.
Dr Dhanesha returned to Mekele in April 2018 and re-established her links with local clinical staff, hospitals and the Tigray Bureau of Health, the regional government department responsible. At a meeting of stakeholders hosted by SENTigray, all expressed their backing for and commitment to the project, and we were pleased and encouraged that three deputy Bureau heads were present, as well as clinical representatives: a rare occasion! On a second visit, Usha conducted a review clinic for those children seen in the pilot 2 years earlier, and gained valuable data on the progress of those who had been fitted with spectacles.