With a population of just over 11 million people, 66.9% of Burundians live below the poverty line and 24,000 individuals are blind and 169,000 live with moderate and severe visual impairment. The main causes of blindness in Burundi are cataract, uncorrected refractive error, and childhood blindness. Despite these challenges, this tiny country in East Africa is home to one of the most innovative eye care programs on the continent.
Under the leadership of Dr. Levi Kandeke, Burundi’s first ophthalmologist trained in cataract and pediatric surgery, the country’s eye care program continues to grow, innovate and excel, serving those who need access to high-quality eye care services. With Seva Canada’s assistance, Dr. Levi introduced radical changes to Burundi’s eye health program. While working in both government and private hospitals, Dr. Levi opened a private surgical centre in the country’s capital city, Bujumbura, to generate revenue that subsidizes surgeries for those who are unable to pay.
Dr. Levi understands that community outreach is key to a sustainable eye care system, and the only way to ensure women and children, and the very poor, can access care. With Seva Canada funding and his own money, Levi built four community eye centres that serve the remote communities of Gatabo, Rumonge, Cibitoke and Makamba city. Self-financed through service fees, these community eye centres serve 50 to 150,000 people and are able to provide a full range of services including glasses for refractive error, drugs for minor conditions, and referral of complex and surgical cases to the ophthalmologist.