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The TY Danjuma Foundation is impacting lives on the Mambila Plateau, writes Gima Forje 

Abubakar Hassan stood behind his grandson, Umar Sani on the queue while waiting for their turn to be screened at the TY Danjuma Foundation funded free-eye care mission in Gembu, Taraba State. Umar is eight years and has a persistent eye condition that seems to defy treatment. The condition takes a toll on the primary three pupil’s education and his grandfather’s farm work. The resilient grandfather brought his grandson to the Foundation’s Free Eye Care Services for yet another chance at finding a solution. Abubakar, a subsistence farmer, had previously spent N20,000 at a nearby General Hospital seeking solution for Umar’s eye problem. Although there was no solution after four attempts, Abubakar was still hopeful for the best and kept trying. “I can’t stop and can’t rest as long as he (Umar) is not feeling well”, he said.  He was, therefore, thankful that opportunity for another treatment has come to his door step. “Look at the hospital card the TY Foundation people gave me. It is even free!” he said.

Gembu is an old town, located on the Mambilla Plateau in Taraba State. Perched on the highest peak, the town can only boast of few social amenities and they are in poor conditions. The absence of power is the most glaring while the absence of affordable health care, good schools and water are the most important. Access to quality eye care, for instance, would require a journey of eight hours to Zing or Jalingo. For a local, the cost for such a trip is enormous – three days out of farm, N5000 on transport, feeding and accommodation. This amount is just incidental to the actual cost of consultation and medication. These costs could take years of planning for a subsistence farmer in Gembu.

To address this challenge, the TY Danjuma Foundation in partnership with Care Vision Support Initiative (CAVSI) staged an intervention tagged “Vision for a Brighter Future” aimed at providing free quality eye care to the people of Gembu, Sardauna Local Government Area of the state. In February 2019, the foundation awarded a grant to CAVSI to increase access to eye care services and improve the vision of 1,300 inhabitants of Gembu through comprehensive eye care services.

When the TY Danjuma Foundation decided to carry out a free medical mission on eye care in Gembu, it was clear that the outcomes of the daunting assignment would be transformative to beneficiaries and impactful to the communities on the Mambila plateau. It was, therefore, not surprising that a massive crowd greeted the team on the first day of the outreach.

Dr. Philibus Duke, the Medical Officer in-Charge of Gembu General Hospital expressed surprise at the huge turnout of patients and admitted that the mission was an eye-opener to the high prevalence of visual impairment in Gembu. Impressed that 73 cataracts surgeries were done on the first day, he pointed out that the eye intervention was the first of its kind in five years in the area. He noted that the turnout would improve the hospital’s chances of receiving funds from a government’s funding programme that allocates fund to government hospitals based on the number of patients that visit the hospital; the intervention has  provided a learning opportunity for the staff of the eye clinic; and the programme has unearthed the burden of visual impairment and the factors (unavailability of service and funding) inhibiting the uptake of eye care services by the people in and around Gembu.

The one-week programme was the first of three free eye care missions by the TY Danjuma Foundation to two Local Government Areas in the state and one LGA in Edo State slated for 2019. The intervention programme will deliver a range of services such as, cataract extraction especially for pupils and students, presbyopia and refractive error correction, distribution of medicated eye glasses and training of community health workers on eye care management.

In the foundation’s return to Gembu after nine years, one of the people to get respite for his troubles was a 74-year old Bakari Haruna, who has had bilateral cataracts for 10 years. According to Bakari, he has visited many hospitals and received treatment that did not address his condition. At the time he was speaking, Bakari could already see with his left eye from which a cataract was extracted the previous day. A relieved Bakari, while thanking TY Danjuma Foundation for assisting him to regain his sight, explained how he never knew a short surgical procedure was the solution to his decade-long challenge. “Now that I am well, I will start performing my normal daily job and earn some money. Interacting with people, hearing and seeing them, if not for anything else is enough satisfaction. I am thankful to God and grateful to General Danjuma”, he added.

At the end of the one-week medical mission, 116 eye surgeries were performed, 155 cataract patients treated, 10 pterygium and one chalazion were treated and corrective medicated lenses for visual improvement were provided for 691 persons. A total of 1,512 persons received a range of medications after consultations and screening by the team of experts. Out of 236 primary school pupils screened, 12 had a form of refractive errors and another six with developmental glaucoma and bilateral cataract. Those pediatric cases require specialized care and the foundation have made plans to take the children to Jos and treat them at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH).

The Nigeria National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey 2005-2007 estimated that 2.7 million adults aged 40 years and above have moderate visual impairment and an additional 400,000 adults are severely visually impaired. Also, 4.25 million adults aged 40 years and above are visually impaired or blind in Nigeria.

As part of a strategic approach to addressing the challenge of visual impairment in Nigeria, the TY Danjuma Foundation has supported interventions that promote free-eye care services in hard-to-reach communities in the past 10 years. Till date, the foundation has funded 40 eye care missions with thousands of impoverished citizens getting free quality treatment in 32 states of the country.

Gima wrote from Abuja