How bicycles are transforming eye-care in Zambia

This World Bicycle Day 3 June we are celebrating the simplicity of a bicycle and its impact as a reliable, low cost, and environmentally friendly way to increase access to eye care.

In the remote areas of Zambia's Copperbelt province, where even cars find it hard to reach, a Qatar Fund for Development-supported Orbis programme is making a significant impact. Here we're using 250 bicycles to help deliver essential eye care to those in need.

This initiative focuses on expanding sight-saving services for children, with nearly 40% of the 2.5 million residents in the area being under the age of 15, and half living in rural areas. These bicycles are bridging the gap created by limited roads and infrastructure, enabling Community Eye Health Champions to reach potential patients and support villages in need.

In Zambia's Mpongwe district, Community Eye Care Champions are now equipped with bicycles and basic eye care training to reach remote populations effectively. Previously, they had to travel on foot to serve over 10,000 residents. With bicycles, they can now reach more people, faster, and provide crucial care for conditions like cataracts and refractive errors.

Mpongwe is the latest of ten districts in Copperbelt province to benefit from this initiative. Not only are these champions improving vision in their communities, but what’s more, they’re also protecting their own eye health through cycling. A recent study in the International Journal of Ophthalmology found that an hour of cycling each day can reduce the risk of developing cataracts by 2%. While the exact mechanisms aren’t known, exercise such as cycling, running and walking help protect the eye from cataracts by reducing infections and inflammation in the lens of the eye.

One way this happens is because physical activity reduces levels of oxidative stress – which is the main cause of cataracts due to natural ageing - which increases the activity of antioxidant enzymes. Antioxidant enzymes get rid of free radicals in the eye, and a boost of these enzymes can limit infections and inflammation in the eye.

So thanks to this project, more people are receiving the eye care they need, and our dedicated champions are improving their eye health too!

Results Since July 2023

Nchimuya Kalangwa, a recipient from Intanda Health Post, spoke about how the Qatar Creating Vision funded-project, has helped many more people in their community receive essential eye care:

Pre­vi­ous­ly, our efforts to sup­port patients with eye con­di­tions were con­strained by trans­porta­tion chal­lenges. With the bicy­cles pro­vid­ed, we can now extend our reach to remote vil­lages, ensur­ing more indi­vid­u­als access essen­tial eye care services.”

World Bicycle Relief have also generously donated a further 24 bikes, to ensure these champions can even more of an effect.

If you wish to learn more about the project, which is part of the Qatar Creating Vision initiative, click here.

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