Abubakar Hassan stood behind his grandson, Umar Sani on the queue while waiting for their turn to be screened at the TY Danjuma Foundation funded free eye care mission. Umar is 8 years and has a persistent eye condition that seems to be defying treatment. The condition takes a toll on the class three pupil’s education and his grandfather’s farm work. Today, again, his resilient grandfather has brought him for yet another chance at finding a solution. Previously, Abubakar had sought treatment for Umar at Zing General Hospital and spent 20 thousand naira doing so. He is only a subsistence farmer; looking after his grandson. Although he has tried at least 4 times to get cure for his grandson and failed, he is always hopeful for the best anywhere he takes Umar for treatment. “I can’t stop and can’t rest as long as he (Umar) is not feeling well” he said. In fact, he is thankful that an opportunity for treatment has come to his door step. “Look at the hospital card the TY Foundation people gave me. Even this is free!”
Gembu is an old town; located on the Mambilla plateau in Taraba state. Perched on the highest peak, the town can boast of only few social amenities in their most limited qualities. The absence of power being the most glaring. Beneath the obvious are actually the most important; affordable health care, good schools and water - these are lacking or in short supply.
Access to quality eye care for instance would require a journey of 8hrs to Zing or Jalingo – the capital of Taraba state. For a local of the place, the cost for such a trip is enormous - three days out of farm, 5 thousand naira in transport fare, and other expenses as feeding and accommodation. These are incidental to the actual costs of consultation and medication. These costs could take years of planning for a subsistence farmer in Gembu.
To address this challenge, the TY Danjuma Foundation went back to Gembu, Sardauna Local Government Area in Taraba state in partnership with Care Vision Support Initiative (CAVSI) as part of a series of interventions tagged “Vision for a Brighter Future” aimed at providing free quality eye care to the people of the community. In February 2019, the Foundation awarded a grant to CAVSI to increase access to eye care services and improve the vision of 1,300 inhabitants of Gembu through comprehensive eye care services.
The Gembu mission, that lasted for a week, is the first of 3 free eye care missions by the TY Danjuma Foundation to 3 Local Government Areas - 2 in Taraba state and 1 in Edo state slated for 2019, that will deliver a range of services - cataract extraction especially for pupils and students, presbyopia and refractive error correction, distribution of medicated eye glasses, and training of community health workers on eye care management.
When the TY Danjuma Foundation took the decision to carry out a free medical mission on eye care in Gembu, it was clear that though the assignment would be daunting, the outcomes would be transformative to beneficiaries and impactful to the communities on the Mambila plateau.
A massive crowd greeted the team on the first day of the outreach. Dr. Philibus Duke, the Medical Officer in-Charge of Gembu General Hospital expressed surprise at the huge turnout of patients while admitting that the eye mission was an eye-opener to the high prevalence of visual impairment in Gembu. Impressed that 73 cataracts surgeries were done on the first day, he noted that the eye intervention is the first of its kind in 5 years and highlighted the importance of the intervention – first, it provided a learning opportunity for the staff in the eye clinic. Importantly, he noted that “the population turnout would improve the hospital’s chances of receiving funds from a programme that allocates funding to government hospitals based on the volume of patients attended to.” Lastly, the program has unearthed the burden of visual impairments and demonstrated that availability of service and funding are major factors inhibiting the uptake of eye care service by the people in and around Gembu.
In the Foundation’s return to Gembu after 9 years, one of the people to get respite for his troubles is Bakari Haruna, a 74 years old who has had bilateral cataracts for 10 years. According to Bakari, he has visited many hospital and received treatment that did not address his condition. At the time of speaking, Bakari could already see with his left eye from which a cataract had been extracted the previous day. A relieved Bakari, while thanking TY Danjuma Foundation for supporting him to regain his sight explained how he never knew a short surgical procedure was the solution to his decade-long challenge. “Now that I am well…” he added “I will start performing my normal daily job and earn some money”. “Interacting with people; hearing and seeing them, if not for anything else is enough satisfaction. I am thankful to God and grateful to General Danjuma”.
At the conclusion of the one-week medical mission, 166 eyes surgeries were performed; 155 cataract patients treated, 10 pterygium, and 1chalazion. Corrective medicated lenses for visual improvement were provided to 691 persons. A total of 1,512 persons received a range of medications after consultations and screening by the team of experts. Out of 236 primary school pupils screened, 12 had a form of refractive errors and another 6 with developmental glaucoma and bilateral cataract. Those pediatric cases require specialized care and the Foundation have made plans for them to be transported and treated at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH).
The Nigeria National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey 2005-2007 estimated that 2.7 million adults aged 40 years and above in Nigeria have moderate visual impairment and an additional 400,000 adults are severely visually impaired. Also, 4.25 million adults aged 40 years and above in Nigeria are visually impaired or blind.
In the past 10 years, and as part of a strategic approach to addressing the challenge of visual impairment in Nigeria, the Foundation has supported interventions that promote free eye care services in hard-to-reach communities in Nigeria. Till date, the TY Danjuma Foundation has funded 40 eye care missions in 32 states across Nigeria, with thousands of impoverished citizens getting quality treatment free of charge.