Tanzania is an East African country known for its vast wilderness areas. With a population of over 53 million people, 28.2% live below the poverty line and 137,000 are blind.
To help prevent blindness and restore sight, Seva Canada funding currently supports three areas in Tanzania: Mara Region near Lake Victoria, Arusha Region and Manyara Region.
In all three areas, Seva Canada supports community programs, including women’s microfinance groups. Microfinance programs have particular strengths as vehicles to empower women to seek better health care: they provide women with additional income, higher status within their villages, and communities of like-minded, similarly driven women. By pioneering the use of existing microfinance groups for community activism, Seva is able to deliver eye care messages and influence health-seeking behaviour. As a result, we have seen significant increases in the number of women receiving eye care.
Among the Maasai ethnic group in Ngorongoro and Manyara Regions in particular, Seva Canada is funding the screening and treatment of trachoma. Trachoma is a recurrent eye infection, found primarily among women and children. Caused by flies, poor water supply and inadequate sanitation, trachoma can lead to scarring and blindness in adults. In an attempt to treat trachoma, the local Maasai microfinance groups have been educated to identify, refer and encourage people to go for corrective surgery.
In Mara, Seva Canada funds the eye department of the District Hospital including a small team of one cataract surgeon, two ophthalmic nurses, one optometrist and one nurse assistant. Seva also provides funding for community outreach, equipment, consumables, glasses and surgery.
Seva’s partner is the Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology (KCCO), an African eye care organization with a mission to strengthen African health systems and ensure all Africans have access to high quality eye care. Together, Seva and KCCO have helped multiple hospitals double or triple the number of people who have received sight-restoring surgery.
With its focus on community eye care training, KCCO is unique among African health care organizations. To date, it has helped 21 programs in 16 countries develop population-based eye care programs to provide services to people in greatest need. KCCO also provides public health training to ophthalmology residents, nurses, medical officers, and community based outreach staff. With its ever-expanding network of community-based programs, many of which focus on women, KCCO’s impact continues to grow.