Almost thirty years since Fred first went to Eritrea, his legacy lives on in the street, kindergarten and lens factory named after him. Eritrea of today is much like the one Fred knew, where its independence is proudly guarded and the resilience and determination of its people a constant motivation for the work we do.
A brief introduction to Eritrea
Located at the top of the Horn of Africa and overlooking the Red Sea coast, Eritrea is a vibrant gateway to the Middle East. Its capital, Asmara, is reminiscent of an old Italian movie set. Art deco architecture lines the streets, with coffee machines and vintage bikes popping up as occasional reminders of Eritrea’s Italian colonisation until the start of World War II.
Fred first came to Eritrea in 1986 when the country was embroiled in its long struggle for independence.
While he observed many people suffering from blindness, he also saw great hope. He was inspired by the Eritrean people and the work carried out by pharmacists who were forced underground during the war. Despite being faced with many barriers, the pharmacists simply persevered with their work.
It was from these experiences that Fred decided he was going to open a factory to produce and bring down the cost of intraocular lenses. Opening a factory would empower the Eritrean people to take charge and create valuable export income for the country.
Part of Fred’s plan was to also impart his skills and knowledge to local doctors, so they could continue the work and help their people.
While Fred set in motion local training, he sadly never got to see the factory.
However, his dream came true and the factory has gone on to produce millions of cost-effective intraocular lenses for cataract surgeries in this and other developing countries.
What are the eye health problems?
Eritrea has a population of over 6 million, with around half living below the poverty line.
Despite great improvements in disease control, there are still issues around sanitation and access to clean water. This means eye health diseases
are widespread, especially when there’s little access to quality care.
is the main cause of avoidable blindness in Eritrea, with trachoma also being prevalent. With cataract there are many barriers stopping people from accessing eye health services, such as a lack of awareness of the help available and difficultly accessing outreach programs.
As far as trachoma
is concerned, it’s estimated over 4 million people live in trachoma endemic zones and 42,000 have potentially blinding trachoma where the eyelashes invert and painfully rub on the cornea.
We’re working on prevention strategies such as surgery and distribution of antibiotics, as well as further training of local health workers.
The Foundation’s programs in Eritrea
Through the relationship Fred forged with the Eritrean people, The Foundation has been able to continue working closely with the Ministry of Health over the years. Because of this, The Foundation is in a unique position to fully integrate its program into the country’s national blindness prevention strategy.
The Foundation works with the Eritrean Ministry of Health as well as the Asmara College of Health Sciences to build the capacity of Eritrean eye health systems so they can deliver high quality services.
With a particular focus on cataract and trachoma, The Foundation works to implement a comprehensive approach by supporting the delivery of eye health services, increasing community awareness and access to services, training eye health professionals and addressing the infrastructure needs.
We’re making significant progress
Thanks to some great work with our partners, we achieved a lot in some of our key strategic areas in 2019:
- Screened 126,792 people
- Performed 60,466 eye operations and treatments, including 8,028 cataract operations, 1,693 surgeries to treat trachoma, 283 diabetic retinopathy treatments and 50,462 other sight saving or improving interventions
- Treated 91,611 people with antibiotics for trachoma
- Distributed 1,514 pairs of glasses
Research, training and technology
- Trained 1,339 people including 6 surgeons and 1,333 community health workers
- Educated 69,536 school children and community members in eye health and sanitation