KENYA – Pharma giant Novartis Pharmaceutical, non-profit aid organization The Fred Hollows Foundation and Kenya have inked a strategic investment deal to inaugurate the ‘Integrated Eye Health Program’ for blindness prevention in the country.

The partnership for eye health seeks to address and offer early treatment for eye problems and condition in an effort to avoid blindness and vision impairment thus drastically reducing the chances of someone going blind if they have the right eye health knowledge.

The health initiative entitled ‘Integrated Eye Health Program’ focusing on eye health education was launched in Kisumu and Uasin Gishu counties while the program launched in Nairobi aims at increasing access to specialized eye care for the treatment and management of cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

The Integrated Eye Health Program is set to educate over 400, 000 people on eye diseases and offer screening services to at least 40, 000 patients particularly prioritizing the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in Kenya.

Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a near or distance vision impairment. In at least 1 billion – or almost half – of these cases, vision impairment could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed. The leading causes of vision impairment and blindness are uncorrected refractive errors and cataracts.

Head of Novartis East Africa Cluster Anthony Mwangi revealed that glaucoma has been identified as a leading cause of vision impairment, noting that an estimate of more than 11M individuals were bilaterally blind due to glaucoma in 2020 and the number will likely increase to 111.8M individuals by 2040.

Anthony Mwangi explained that the eye diseases under scope in the Integrated Eye Health Program specifically cataract, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy are often preventable, yet many people suffer permanent blindness due to lack of education.

The Integrated Eye Health Program is part of an ongoing partnership to tackle avoidable blindness in concerted efforts to improve the accessibility of eye health services by conducting comprehensive eye health programs with a special focus on cataract, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

The World Health Organization cautioned that about 78 million people are having glaucoma with 90 percent cases going undetected in developing countries, observing that more than 20 million women are blind globally accounting for 55 percent of the world’s blind.

The International Agency for Prevention of Blindness 2020 Vision Atlas report on Kenya noted that there were an estimated 3.9 million people with vision loss including about 290,000 people being blind while the Ministry of Health estimates that 15.5 per cent of the population needs quality eye care services.

Kenya’s Ministry of Health further warned that 15.5 percent of Kenyans need quality eye care services ranging from surgeries, treatments and spectacle corrections but only about a fifth of the Kenyan population have access to eye health services.

Subsequently, the Ministry of Health has partnered with the Fred Hollows Foundation, Novartis Pharmaceutical and the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness in expanding equitable access to eye care in remote communities in Kenya including promotion of eye health literacy.

The eye healthcare program is collaborating with local eye hospitals to supports free eye screening where doctors and ophthalmic professionals identify patients with eye diseases and provide the necessary guidance and referral.

Furthermore, the Head of Novartis East Africa Cluster confirmed that the Integrated Eye Health in Kenya project has rolled out a variety of online and offline initiatives to educate communities on eye health including banners, SMS blasts, TV, radio ads as well as in-person events across the country.

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