Folalumi Alaran and Kuni Tyessi
Sightsavers, an international development charity, has disclosed that it worked with the governments and other partners to screen 1.3 million children for visual impairment in Northwest Nigeria and delivered 590 million treatments for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in the country since 1953.
The group, which is working in countries across Africa and Asia to prevent blindness and strengthen local health systems, support equality for people with disabilities, and advocate for change, also collaborated to support over 1,249 cataract surgeries for children in Zamfara, Sokoto and Kaduna States. These were listed as part of the achievements of the global charity in the last 70 years of its operations in Nigeria.
In a statement issued yesterday by its Communication Associate, Joy Tarbo, to commemorate its 70th anniversary since coming to Nigeria, Sightsavers noted that it began work in the country in 1953.
The organisation specifically cited trachoma, noting that as they began operations in Nigeria, the number of people who were at risk of going blind has reduced drastically from 38 million at the programme inception to just over 3.7 million.
It added that millions of other people across three states of Kaduna, Sokoto and Zamfara have been weaned of the use of Ivermectin for the elimination of river blindness. It has also equipped around 100 service providers to support people with disabilities.
Quoting the Country Director of Sightsavers Nigeria, Dr. Sunday Isiyaku, the statement said: “I am so proud of what has been achieved over the past seven decades–so many lives have been transformed by the work to improve eye health, eliminate diseases, and boost disability rights.
“So much has already been achieved in all areas, thanks to all the work that has been put in by our partners and staff. But today is also about looking forward and galvanising momentum for what still needs to be done.
“We are committed to a future where people are no longer at risk from neglected tropical diseases; everyone has access to quality eye care, and people with disabilities can thrive in an inclusive society.”
The statement added: “To mark the anniversary, the organisation held two special events on November 20 in Abuja. The first was a roundtable meeting of technical experts from the academia, government, public health experts and corporate world who explored innovative thinking on developmental issues and local resourcing for the elimination of neglected tropical diseases.
“It would also showcase Sightsavers as an example of how impactful interventions to eliminate NTDs are possible.
“Following these, there will be a celebration event, and Sightsavers will be joined by staff, partners, donors and government officials. Key successes from the past seven decades will be shared and awards given for key achievements, as well as commitments set for the future.”
The statement listed other achievements of Sightsavers as the establishment of the Nigeria Farmcraft Centre for the Blind in 1957 to provide training in crop cultivation, fishing, herding and rural crafts, and a pioneering programme set up in the 1960s with local teachers to help educate blind children–a forerunner of inclusive education work seen today.
Others are groundbreaking work to tackle river blindness in the 1970s and 80s, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the launch of the Nigerian Eye Health Programme in 2017 which supports eye health services to provide surgeries, screenings and training, among others.
Speaking at the commemoration dinner, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sightsavers, Dr. Caroline Harper, celebrated the progress made against trachoma, but highlighted the ongoing challenge of cataracts, calling for extended healthcare initiatives, especially in northern communities.
Harper emphasised Sightsavers’ commitment to disability advocacy and equal opportunities while thanking partners and acknowledging the dedicated team’s contributions over 70 years.
Meanwhile, the federal government said it was pleased with the impact of Sightsavers in Nigeria and their services in the last seven decades.
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu,
made the commendation when she attended the seventy years anniversary of the international organisation held in Abuja.
Edu, who was a special guest of honour at the event, said over 70 years of Sightsavers in Nigeria has provided significant impact in eye care and surgeries as well as other interventions to prevent blindness and boost literacy rates across the country, thereby reducing poverty and humanitarian crises especially among the people with disabilities (PWDs).
“You have also supported girls and children with disabilities. This inclusive approach will ensure more persons with disabilities contribute effectively to nation-building.
“Since 1953, you have been collaborating with national and state governments as well as other partners.
“It is on record that you have delivered over 60,000 cataract surgeries, and 590 million treatments to eliminate five neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
“These diseases, which affect millions of people in the country, can cause excruciating pain, permanent blindness, and long-term disability, and can sometimes be fatal”she added.
The minister called for more support in the humanitarian space which she says will save more sight of affected communities ,the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)and Prevent more people from falling below the poverty line.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sightsavers, Caroline Harper said: “As we look back on the past seven decades of Sightsavers working in Nigeria, what is clear is that collaboration and partnership have been intrinsic to our success.
“I am optimistic about the future of eye health, inclusion, and the elimination of neglected tropical diseases in the country. We’re committed to reaching the most marginalized communities, the disabled community in Nigeria, and I look forward to many more years of collaboration and life-changing work.” she explained.