Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

Tanzania: Bilal Urges Private Sector Support in Fighting Blindness

THE private sector and the business community have been called upon to support government efforts in eliminating eye disorders leading to blindness and visual impairment.

Launching a project envisaged at providing eye treatment to children between 0 to 15 years of age in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, the Vice- President, Dr Mohamed Gharib Bilal, said deliberate efforts and strategies are needed to make sure treatment is accessed by many people.

The project dubbed, 'Seeing is Believing Child Health Programme,' is a four-year worldwide initiative sponsored by the Standard Chartered Bank which aims to reach out to at least four million children in three East African countries.

Dr Bilal was of the opinion that the EAC needs to confront health challenges facing the region including eye problems that have left at least 10,000 children totally blind. "The region faces eye problems that need modern expertise and equipment to deal with.

Existing shortage of human resources and ideal infrastructure in that area should be seriously addressed in order to overcome it," he said. According to the VP, since fighting blindness and visual impairment in children is highly expensive, the Private Public Partnership (PPP) arrangement must be emphasized to realize desired progress in eliminating it.

He thanked the Standard Chartered Bank and its partners, the Brien Holder Vision Institute Consortium of South Africa and Christian Blind Mission Consortium, who together will raise 6.25 million UD dollars (about 8bn/- ) to implement the project.

According to the arrangement, Tanzania will get 2 million US dollars (about 3.2bn/-) that will be used to provide eye treatment in ten regions to start with. The regions are Iringa, Kigoma, Manyara, Mwanza, Mbeya, Rukwa, Tabora, Morogoro, Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam and more than 15 million children will benefit directly and indirectly through eye check-ups, treatment and education.

The Bank's Chief Executive Officer for Tanzania, Mr Jeremy Awori, said the programme will also build referral networks to identify and correctly diagnose and treat children with problems. He said the project is part of the global 100 million US dollars drive as the bank's contribution towards achieving Vision 2020 which targets to completely eliminate preventable blindness.

The project launch was also attended by Dr Samuel Kambi, and Dr Samuel Kabikile who represented health ministries in Kenya and Uganda respectively. Tanzania was represented by the Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Mr Aggrey Mwanri, and the Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Dr Margret Mhando.

About 1000 children were expected to receive free eye check-ups in eye clinics arranged as part of the launch activities and the commemoration of Africa Child Day which is marked worldwide. Eye problems are among top diseases in the country, according to Health Statistics Abstract 2008, that have left 320,000 Tanzanians blind and about 1 million others visually impaired.

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