Kenya is an Indian Ocean coastal country in East Africa. It is well renowned for its expansive natural game reserves and wildlife that have made it a favorite tourist destination. It has a population of about 47.6 million, of whom 50.31% are women.
According to the World Bank, Kenya is one of the fastest growing economies is Sub-Saharan Africa. It has the potential to be one of Africa’s success stories from its growing youthful population, a dynamic private sector, highly skilled workforce, improved infrastructure, a new constitution, and its pivotal role in East Africa.
Eye care services in Kenya fall under the Ophthalmic Services Unit (OSU) of the Ministry of Health. OSU has developed Kenya’s National Eye Health Strategy 2020 – 2025 that focuses on integrated people-centred eye care for universal health coverage. The strategic plan has been designed around the health systems strengthening pillars; governance, service delivery, financing, human resources, information systems, health products and technologies, infrastructure, and research in ensuring delivery and access to integrated, comprehensive and inclusive eye health services.
The Foundation made its entry into Kenya in 2011 when it partnered with Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) to support the training of optometrists at the university. Building on our 2 years partnership with the university, we expanded our partnership to service delivery through the implementation of a child eye health project.
Human Resources Development for Eye Health Project at MMUST
1.1. Training optometrists
The Foundation partnered with Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) in 2011 to support the B.Sc in Optometry and Vision Sciences course that the university had initiated in 2009.The project supports International Agency for Prevention Blindness (IAPB)’s global mission of eliminating avoidable blindness by the year 2020 and Kenya towards achieving its human resources for eye health targets by 2030. Over the years of the partnership, the Foundation set out to achieve the following;
- Build the capacity of MMUST to sustainably and independently conduct the training program
- Train highly qualiﬁed and skilled optometrists for the country
- Equip the university with the necessary optometry equipment and teaching/learning material.
- Advocate for the recognition of optometry as a profession in the country as well as the creation of optometry posts and employment of optometrists by the Ministry of Health in the public sector
- Provide technical support through quality assurance, monitoring and supervision of course delivery
- Support the university by hiring expatriate lecturers
- Support the university in its efforts to develop local faculty members
MMUST has made great strides in running the course with minimal supervision and financial support from the Foundation over the years and also initiated a Masters degree programme. The key focus at this stage of the project is ensuring continued high quality of teaching and learning and overall sustainability of the course. The Foundation will continue to provide technical expertise and guidance to the course and support the university’s efforts in the development of its local faculty.
1.2. Low Vision and Paediatric Optometry Certificate course
The Foundation also initiated the Low Vision and Paediatric Optometry Certificate course at MMUST in 2014. The course was approved by the University Senate as one of the short courses to be offered under the Department of Distance Learning and Short Courses at the university. In line with the university’s academic regulations, candidates who meet all the requirements will upon successful completion of the course be awarded a certificate by the University at the university’s annual graduation ceremony held in November/December.
The course was planned to run annually and will be open to qualified candidates from East Africa and beyond who wish to specialize in low vision as well as improve their paediatric optometry skills. The university is well positioned to host these two sub- speciality programmes into the future to meet the demand for such skills in the region as it builds on the foundation laid by the optometry degree programme at the university.
2. Child Eye Health 2013-2016
The Foundation led a consortium of 8 organizations in the implementation of the first ever multi country child eye health project. This was part of larger project that covered the three East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and was funded by Standard Chartered Bank’s Seeing Is Believing (SiB) Programme. It was implemented by the Ministry of Health (MoH) and Ministry of Education (MoE) in collaboration with NGO partners- Operation Eyesight Universal, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Perkins International and Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology.
To reduce the percentage of avoidable blindness and visual impairment in selected regions of three East African countries (Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) over 4 years through the development and implementation of a comprehensive Child Eye Health Programme directly reaching an estimated population of 4 million children aged 0 – 15 years leading to improved quality of the children’s lives and educational performance.
- Improve the quality of eye health services and access for all children aged 0-15 years.
- Establish the School Eye Health Programme as a sustainable and efficient model of delivering eye health services to children.
- Improve the quality of early intervention and education of blind and visually impaired children by ensuring that the children receive necessary specialized educational support.
- Evaluate the model approaches for promoting child eye health in East Africa, document and publish the findings to inform future strategies and replication.
- Embed Child Eye Health (CEH) in the policies and programme work of the Ministries of Health and Education
The project was successfully implemented and ended in December 2016. One of the key initiatives of this project was to integrate eye health care into school health programs and maternal and child health clinics. Nurses, teachers and community health volunteers were equipped with basic eye examination kits and trained to conduct eye exams and make referrals to an appropriate eye health facility. Eye screenings were conducted in schools, communities and clinics. One of the highlights of the project was the introduction of vision champions – children trained to conduct eye exams on their peers, refer those with eye problems to their teachers and educate others about eye health. This successful initiative not only increased eye health awareness in schools, but also empowered children to take care of their eye health needs. External evaluation at the end of the project indicated that the project had been successfully implemented. It also highlighted several invaluable lessons learnt that would be applicable to future child eye health projects.