The Chief Executive Officer of Sightsavers International, Dr Caroline Harper, says the organisation is very close to eliminating trachoma disease in Nigeria.
Harper disclosed this at a breakfast round table organised by Access Bank on Thursday in Lagos.
She said: “Trachoma is a bacterial infection in the eye; and repeated infections of Trachoma turns ones eyelids inside out, so that the eyelashes scrape on the cornea.
“It is agonising and it is really an unpleasant disease and years ago, it was one of the most common causes of blindness in Nigeria,” Harper said.
She said the organisation was close to eliminating the disease in Nigeria at the moment.
Harper noted that when she visited Nigeria in 2011 the trachoma disease map was at red but in green at the moment, indicating that the disease was being tactically defeated.
“The only area where we have significant problems are in the Northeast.
“And it’s the problem of conflict that is stopping us. And if we can do that, I believe within the next three years, we should be able to eliminate trachoma in Nigeria.
“That is the only thing stopping us and will not be fabulous to be able to stand there.
“And for Nigeria to say that we have eliminated one of the most horrible, painful diseases, and that’s the sort of progress that we have been able to make working with partners,” Harper said.
She said that the organisation would continue to eliminate the disease in the countries where it works to free millions of people from the blindness, poverty and social isolation caused by trachoma.
She said that the focus of her engagement was on how Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) could have access to work and be given the enabling environment to be productive in the work place.
According to her, Sightsavers work on issues of eye health; working to prevent blindness, treating blindness, and also educating people about these issues.
“But we also work very closely with organisations and persons with disabilities and the private sector on how we can ensure PWDs fight for their rights.
“We want to ensure they speak up for themselves and make sure that not only is the government passing those relevant acts, but also enforcing them.
“They don’t just sit on the shelf. The other piece that we are doing and increasingly important to us, is economic empowerment,” Harper said.
She said that the inclusion work programme officially came to an end in June, adding that it was very successful.
Harper described the inclusion programme as phase one of its economic empowerment programme.
“We are moving on to a much bigger programme in nine countries across Africa.
“We are going to be investing five million dollars of Sightsavers funding into helping PWDs engage with work and helping employers learn how to employ them,” she said.
Harper said that she was excited that employers were starting to recognise that this was not a charitable thing to do.
“This is not about feeling sorry for PWDs.
“If we are a nice organisation, we should employ a few.
“What it’s really about is a whole group of people with tremendous potential talent that has been left out to waste.
“Now we all know in today’s world there’s a fight for good talent. It’s not easy to find good people. There’s a lot of competition.
“There’s a lot of staff turnover, right across the world. And yet we still seem to leave out 15 per cent of the people that could be part of the workforce.
“Let’s recognise that these people could tremendously add to the economic success of your company as well as the country,” she added.
Also speaking, the Executive Director, Access Bank, Mr Gregory Jobome, said that the bank was deliberate in formulating disability friendly policies for its staff and customers.
Jobome said that the bank had a pedigree in engaging with a range of international partners over the past 15 years on sustainability.
“Part of the bank’s sustainability journey is ensuring that in terms of the best practices around inclusiveness, gender and disability that we are keyed in, we understand them and we embed them in the business that we run.
“Now to do this means that you have to identify key global players like Sightsavers, like all the big international fund finance organisations, and all the other big global players in our space.
“Most of the time, the gap is closing gradually, but we know that we still have to learn one or two things from those who have done it before us.
“So, having Sightsavers around who have worked in this space for so many years, means that we can leapfrog right so what took them 100 years to achieve, it can take us 10 years, if we take it seriously.
“So, in Access Bank, we will take this very seriously. And that is why we deliberately look out for some global partners to work with and ensure that we are leapfrogging as a company and as a country to get to those best practices around inclusion and disability,” Jobome said.(NAN)