Overseas disability charity Christian Blind Mission (CBM) is warning that hundreds of thousands of people are living needlessly blind in Zimbabwe – and the situation is worsening due to Coronavirus. CBM has launched a fundraising appeal to improve access to sight-saving treatment and until 20 May all public donations will be doubled by the UK government.
Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world. A study in one region found that 3.7% of people aged over 50 were blind. The leading cause is cataracts, which can be treated with straightforward surgery. But a desperate shortage of trained eye health workers and equipment means that, for too many people, treatment is out of reach. And in the last year, Coronavirus has made the situation much worse.
Heri (14) from Tanzania can see and get around independently again after sight-restoring cataract surgery; CBM’s Light up Lives appeal will help more people like Heri access life-changing eye health services. ©CBM/Hayduk
CBM UK Chief Executive Kirsty Smith explains: “We’ve seen here in the UK how the virus has caused major problems for delivering health services and the same has happened in Zimbabwe - but in a system that was already stretched to breaking point, the impact has been devastating. At one point last year, our partner hospital Norton Eye Unit was the only hospital in the whole country still doing cataract operations. Thanks to our generous supporters we were able to make sure they had protective equipment, and the medical team bravely continued their vital work restoring sight. But they were overwhelmed with demand. Only those who were completely blind in both eyes could even be considered for surgery, with others having to be turned away every day.”
In December, as in the UK, Zimbabwe saw a major increase in Coronavirus cases and entered a strict lockdown, so Norton Eye Unit and other eye hospitals are currently closed.
“We need to act urgently to scale up access to sight-restoring cataract surgery and other treatments, as soon as the threat of Coronavirus subsides”, says Ms Smith. “A simple cataract operation, costing less than £30, can restore sight transform life for an individual and their whole family. It can enable a child to learn to read and write, a parent to support their family, a grandparent to look after their grandchildren again. And thanks to the UK Aid Match scheme, every pound donated to our Light up Lives campaign will be doubled by the UK government. That will help us train many more eye health professionals, equip hospitals and fund sight-saving treatments in Zimbabwe to help tackle this blindness crisis”.
CBM’s Light up Lives appeal will enable people living needlessly blind in the world’s poorest places to access sight-saving treatments and see again. The UK government will match every pound donated by the UK public to the appeal between 18 February and 20 May. Public donations will support CBM’s work preventing blindness and transforming lives wherever the need is greatest, while match funding from the UK government will be used to improve access to sight-saving eye-health services in Zimbabwe.
The charity hopes to raise enough to fund an ambitious three-year project to reduce avoidable blindness in the country, training staff, equipping hospitals and enabling over 44,000 people with eye health problems to access treatment – ranging from a pair of glasses to sight-restoring surgery.
Visit www.lightuplives.net to find out more and donate to this worthy cause.