Nicknamed the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda is lush, mountainous and a haven for rare mountain gorillas. However, Rwanda is also known for its tumultuous recent history – far removed from its natural beauty. Home to some of the world’s most resilient people, Rwanda’s past will never be forgotten, but its future refuses to be defined by it.
An introduction to Rwanda
Today, Rwanda is thriving. The capital city of Kigali is a rapidly developing urban area, spread over the hills in the centre of the country, with clean streets, new buildings and bustling markets. In the countryside, the seasons govern the life of the people – mostly traditional farmers living in family dwellings scattered over the picturesque hills and valleys, among fields of banana, sorghum, maize, rice, tea and coffee.
In the process of rebuilding the country, the last two decades have seen Rwanda develop some of the world’s leading social and environmental advances. It’s the only country in the world where there are more women members of parliament than men. Non-biodegradable plastic bags have been banned from entering the country and Rwandans dedicate one Saturday a month to community service projects. During this time of prosperity, life expectancy has doubled, infant mortality decreased, and Rwanda has made significant progress towards growth and development.
While great strides have been made, there’s still more to do. A majority of Rwanda’s 12 million people still live below the poverty line and many still struggle to access clean drinking water, adequate nutrition, safe sanitation and eye care.
What are the eye health problems?
Of the estimated 11,384 blind people in Rwanda, 83.9% suffer from avoidable causes. Blindness is considered the second highest cause of morbidity in the country, with cataract among the leading cases of avoidable blindness.
While Rwanda possesses leading universal health coverage, the country’s rural population face numerous barriers to accessing eye health services. Historically, rural health services have been insufficiently equipped to provide eye health service delivery and many people still hold the common misconception that eyes cannot be cured.
For this reason, The Foundation works to build the capacity of provincial and district hospitals, train eye health professionals, and facilitate awareness and education campaigns, particularly at large events during World Health Day.
The Foundation’s programs in Rwanda
When we began work in the western province of Rwanda in 2004, there was one mobile service providing eye health aid. Today, we partner with 24 district hospitals (out of 35 nationally) and three provincial hospitals (out of seven nationally).
To end avoidable blindness in Rwanda we focus on strengthening public facilities and their capacity for sustainable eye health services. We also work closely with the Ministry of Health to implement their Eye Health Intervention program as part of their national policy, and to plan their 2015-2018 National Eye Health Implementation Plan.
We’re making significant progress
Thanks to some great work with our partners, we achieved a lot in 2014:
Research, training and technology
- Upgraded seven public district hospitals to provincial level, enabling an expansion of opthalmology services available
- Developed the current new national Eye Health Implementation Plan with the Ministry of Health, NGOs and the professional association of eye health cadres
- Screened 26,582 people for a range of eye conditions
- Performed 439 sight restoring cataract operations
- Trained one surgeon and 45 clinic support staff
- Supported 11 people to attend further training
- Successfully conducted a nation-wide Rapid Assessment of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) which will be used as a key tool for advocacy and policy planning