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Spotlight: Visions of Zambia

March 2018

You’ll have heard by now that talented figurative artist Tim Benson has collaborated with Orbis to share the stories of children and adults in Zambia with eye conditions, and the health staff trained by Orbis medical volunteers. The striking portraits he has created are now on show at the Mall Galleries, London, until the 17th March 2018.

Tim spent a week in north-central Zambia to meet many of the children who have had sight-saving surgery at Kitwe Eye Annexe, and the health staff trained by Orbis medical volunteers.

But what's the story behind our work in Zambia?

Eye Health in Zambia

Worldwide, 253 million people are blind or visually impaired – 245, 000 of whom live in Zambia.

With under 30 ophthalmologists in Zambia for a population of 17 million (compared to over 3000 in the UK), there is a severe shortage of eye health professionals to meet need. Paediatric eye-health workers are even scarcer. 

We know that at least 75% of vision loss is avoidable or treatable. A lack of available health workers is a key factor in why children in Zambia are four times more likely to go blind than children in high-income countries.

Since 2011, Orbis has been working in Zambia, when we began our partnership with Kitwe Eye Annexe. In 2016 we received UK aid funding from the UK government to help us expand and strengthen eye health services at every level of the health system, to ensure that people can access the eye care they need.  

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One of our fantastic Kitwe Eye Annexe nurses

Kitwe Eye Annexe

At Kitwe Eye Annexe, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, we have helped to establish a specialist centre for Paediatric Eye Health.

Specialised paediatric services were virtually non-existent before Orbis’s work began.

At Kitwe, Orbis has trained local eye health workers – including ophthalmologists and anaesthetists – so they can provide quality specialist eye health services, including paediatric eye surgery.

Orbis trained Dr Mboni, one of Zambia’s first paediatric ophthalmologists, who now works tirelessly to save the sight of people in Zambia. 

Orbis volunteers continue to train specialists at Kitwe Eye Annexe. In turn, these doctors have treated more patients, and trained their colleagues. 

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Dr Mboni and Dr Musonda treat a patient at Kitwe Eye Annexe

Beyond Kitwe Eye Annexe

As well as ensuring that specialist services are in place, it’s crucial that people know that these services exist.

With support from the UK Government’s Aid Match Scheme, we’ve worked to expand and strengthen services across the Copperbelt Province to raise awareness of eye health and improve referrals. In the first year of this funding, we made significant progress in reducing childhood blindness and visual impairment: almost 20,000 children accessed eye health services.

We’ve built the capacity of eye health services at the local and district services. We’ve trained hundreds of health workers at secondary, primary and community levels, and supported clinics with medicines and medical products. We have improved referrals so people can receive the help they need locally – including for minor ailmentslike conjunctivitis - whilst more complex cases are referred on to District eye care centres or Kitwe Eye Annexe.  

We’ve also increased the awareness of eye health conditions. 1,500 community members have attended discussions on eye health, including traditional healers, which have addressed common misconceptions about eye health. Youth led radio programmes on eye health have reached more than three million people across the Copperbelt province.

In order to fight avoidable visual impairment, we’ve taken a whole system approach – from improving specialist treatment to increasing awareness around eye health to prevent avoidable blindness. We are ensuring that trained staff are in the right places, with the right skills and right equipment, so people can get the care they need at the right time.

Interested? The oil paintings from Tim Benson’s trip to Zambia are being showcased in the Mall Galleries 12-17 March 2018, with profits funding our life-changing projects. Admission to the exhibition is free and paintings from the catalogue are on sale now. Find out more.