Combatting poor vision in Ethiopia - Essilor See Change

The Global Poverty Action Fund (GPAF) is a cash injection that is accelerating development of eyecare services in five of the poorest regions of Ethiopia. Jeremy Jalie, director of NGO Vision Aid Overseas (VAO), explains its importance for today and for the future.

“It’s estimated there are $272 billion dollars every year in lost productivity because of URE. Never is that productivity more acute than when it is in a part of the world where people struggle to get by already,” he says, “We are dealing with a very, very poor part of Ethiopia, a place where there are acute need for eye care. What we were helping our local healthcare partner Grarbet Tehadiso Mahber (GTM) with was brilliant but it wasn’t going anywhere near far enough.”

Long term charity partner of Essilor UK, VAO has been working in Ethiopia for ten years. Amongst other projects, the NGO has been providing an eye care component at a health clinic and hospital run by GTM. Thanks to the funding received through Essilor and the UK Department for International Development in 2014, they have expanded basic test provision by training teachers and healthcare volunteers.

“We are dealing with a very poor part of Ethiopia, a place where there are no acute need for eye care.”

Financial support has also strengthened the hospital. Before this project started, the area had two full time optometrists. The number has now increased to 6. They have also dramatically improved spectacle provision to the communities. The program’s target is to have 20,000 new wearers over 3 years and initial results have been impressive. There were 5,200 new wearers in less than four months at the end of 2014, 143% of expectations.

“What we’re really expecting is that the increase in the number of spectacle sales will help sustain the larger number of optometrists that have been employed in the program. That sustainable outcome would be fantastic,” Mr Jalie said.

A softer sustainable outcome is the effect on young optometrists employed by the GTM hospital. VAO worked on establishing optometry as a new degree course in Ethiopia in 2007 and so far there have been over 150 graduates. However the discipline is not as well established as ophthalmology. Working in an environment where they are well resourced and well respected seems to be improving confidence amongst new graduates.

“The feedback we have had is that they are enjoying the work that they do. We are very happy with that because by employing people who are motivated, we are hopefully stirring them onto much more successful long-term careers,” said Mr Jalie.

VAO received recognition at Essilor’s  Sustainabilty Awards in January 2015. Jeremy Jalie picked up the award on behalf of the program and sent it to the NGO’s partners in Addis Ababa. “They put it up on the wall. It will make a big difference to them to have the recognition of an international corporation for being a great partner. It’s a wonderful gong for us to have.”