Malawi opens first ever Eye-Care centre at Mzuzu Central Hospital

A consortium of partners dedicated to the eradication of avoidable blindness in Southern Africa, has handed over a health facility to Malawi government aimed to complement government effort in eye care services.

The Academic Vision Centre which was officially opened by Malawi’s Deputy Minister of Health, Halima Daudi is the first of its kind in the country.

Based at Mzuzu Centra; Hospital, the Academic Vision Centre marks yet another achievement of a special partnership of eye health organisations and tertiary institutions in providing quality eye care to Sub-Saharan Africa.

The partnership, consisting of Optometry Giving Sight, Brien Holden Vision Institute, Sight Savers , Mzuzu University and the Malawi College of Health Sciences, was formed four years  ago to tackle the urgent need for human resource development in the field of eye care in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Demonstrating how the equipment can be used. Photo by Joel Chirwa

Demonstrating how the equipment can be used. Photo by Joel Chirwa

Besides supporting the newly founded School of Optometry, the four-year partnership has also helped to support the Academic Vision Centre, a state of the art training centre for Mzuzu University optometry students, which will go a long way to creating a human-resource, educational and deployment solution in eye care for Southern Africa.

“The Academic Vision Centre will assist students from Mzuzu University and other institutions in Malawi to practice the theoretical skills they have obtained from their classroom sessions. It will enable students to have support and guidance from the lecturers as it is situated closer to the university,” Mzuzu University Vice Chancellor, Dr. Ridley said.

Global Programs Director for Brien Holden Vision Institute Professor Kovin Naidoo said as is the case for the rest of Southern Africa, human resources for eye care in Malawi is characterized by a shortage of mid-level eye care personnel.

According to the Professor, the low practitioner to patient ratios, the uneven distribution of personnel, poorly-trained personnel, unexpected redeployment and lack of clear career pathways for mid-level eye care personnel has led to human capital flight, and the emigration of trained and talented individuals to other nations or jurisdictions.

“Eye care service availability in Malawi has been limited largely to surgical and emergency management of diseases of the eye. There has been minimal refractive services and spectacle provision available in the capital city, mostly inaccessible to the general population,” said Naidoo.

To alleviate this problem in Malawi, the partners planned to increase the numbers of trained optometrists by developing a regional School of Optometry with two university campuses in Malawi, each training a separate level of optometric-skilled personnel. Mzuzu University was chosen as the campus to offer students a four year degree program for a qualification as an optometrist.

The countries targeted to benefit from this training program are Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.  It is hoped that by 2015, more than 60 optometric personnel will have been trained to deliver primary eye care and refractive services to provide services for more than 80 million people in Southern Africa who currently have no access to eye care.

The Academic Vision Centre was established as a training center for students studying optometry at Mzuzu University; and it is here that they can gain the practical experience they need, working with patients to develop their skills and to provide low vision services to the community.

The Centre aims to train professionally and technically competent optometrists, develop preventative, therapeutic and rehabilitative ophthalmic eye-care skills and to provide appropriate refraction and low vision services to patients.

The opening of the new Academic Vision Centre in Malawi would not be possible without contributions from the global fund raising initiative, Optometry Giving Sight and specifically Dr. Allan Jones and the NGO, Canadian Vision Care.

“I would like to thank Dr. Jones on behalf of all the partners for his substantial financial contribution to the construction the Academic Vision Centre, which was made in the name of his late parents William Henry Jones and Edna May Jones,” said Global CEO of Optometry Giving Sight, Clive Miller.

According to Miller “Dr. Jones has been such a passionate advocate for the project and remains strongly committed to ensuring that optometry students in Malawi have access to the facilities and equipment they need to become fully qualified and highly motivated eye care professionals delivering affordable, quality vision care to the people of Malawi.

In her remarks country director for Sightsavers Malawi, Agnes Makonda-Ridley said her organization is proud to be associated with this first Vision Centre of its kind in Malawi.

“We hope that, combined with our support of professional training of eye care workers, it can pave the way for improving the lives of persons with visual impairment and preventing further blindness,” she said.

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