Rotary eye care in Kenya exceeds expectations
November 15, 2010
RIFT VALLEY, Kenya and#8212; Near Gilgil deep in the Rift Valley of Kenya there is a and#8220;Granny Cluband#8221; consisting of native African grandmothers who are raising their orphaned grandchildren. A program to teach the grandmothers to read was failing miserably until it was discovered the grandmothers could not see well enough to read. Then several of the grandmothers were fitted with affordable eye glasses at the Rotary sponsored eye clinic at the nearby St. Mary’s Mission Hospital (SMMH). Now the grandmothers are learning to read and are assisting their grandchildren in their studies. Additionally, the grandmothers are now doing fine beadwork to improve their income.
This is just one story of how a Rotary sponsored grant to improve the eye care in the Southern Rift Valley of Kenya has improved the lives of the poor. Rotary District 5190 of Nevada and northeast California and Rotary Clubs of Tahoe Incline, Carson City, Tahoe City, Truckee and Alturas Sunrise (CA) received a $300,000 grant in 2009 to improve eye care in the southern Rift Valley (RVEC) in Kenya. There is an old saying among missionaries and volunteers that and#8220;Africa always waits.and#8221; Not in this case. After one year our program is on schedule and has exceeded expectations.
One of the major goals of this Rotary program is to provide basic eye care to this area, particularly to remote farming areas where medical care of eye conditions has been almost nonexistent. The program has recruited nurses and physician assistants from the area and brought them to SMMH for a free six-month training program. The first group of five health professionals has graduated and returned to their clinics and to provide basic eye care and make proper diagnoses. Of the patient mix at the outreach clinics 1,029 individuals have benefited from consultations, 257 patients have received corrective eye glasses and 39 blind patients had their sight restored through corrective cataract surgery. The goal of the grant was to perform cataract surgery on 60 patients in the first six months of the program, but 82 patients had their sight restored, thus exceeding the goal by 37 percent.
When it rains in the Rift Valley, the roads are more treacherous than snow-covered roads in the Eastern Sierras. Even in areas of slight inclines, vehicles slide off the road on the slippery roads of slick mud, roads that are difficult to navigate even when it is dry. Through the Rotary grant a 4WD vehicle was purchased to service these outlying areas. The vehicle can carry 12 passengers of staff or patients, or a large amount of cargo. Visits to the outreach sites began on a regular basis this October.
Modern operating microscopes to allow trainees to observe the surgery under magnification as it is performed by the cataract surgeon were purchased. In fact, most of the equipment found in eye clinics in the developed world can now be found in the SMMH clinic. In addition, the home clinics of all the training program graduates receive basic instruments for examination of the eye.
The financial model of SMMH is a new concept for this Africa. The cost of receiving care at SMMH is by far the lowest in East Africa, but it is not free. Poverty in the Rift Valley is more severe than in Nairobi, where patients can almost always gather $40 to have a cataract corrected. The Rotary Foundation does not want to see anyone refused the benefits of any grant because of they can not afford participation. To help the poorest of the poor benefit from the 3H grant Rotary has established a 501c3 charity whereby funds have been transferred to SMMH to cover the cost of treating these patients. Two thousand dollars has already been sent to SMMH.
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Kenya is still socially tribal and the tribal chief is the one to convince of the effectiveness of the program. One chief has become proficient in spotting cataracts and referring them to the clinics. Patients who had their vision restored with glasses or been cured of their blindness by cataract surgery are spreading the word and organizing outreach visits.
A policy of The Rotary Foundation is programs will become self sufficient. After one year the eye care program is near the break even point. It is highly likely the program will be self sufficient during the second year of the grant.
Some Rotarians from the district have visited the program on an annual basis. The 501c3 has been created by a Rotarian without charge.
Restoration of sight to a blind person can work profound changes in the family and tribe. The blind elderly are usually assigned a child to serve as their eyes. When sight is restored the adult can return to work in the fields or to perform household chores and cooking. The child then is able to return to school.
The pictures show 61 year old Sarah who was blinded from cataracts. With her are and#8220;her eyesand#8221;, her 5-year-old granddaughter, Agnes. Shortly after Sarah had her bandages removed, Agnes disappeared. Two hours later we found her playing with some other children, something she had not been able to do for two years.
and#8212; Wend Schaefer, M. D. is president of the Rotary Club of Tahoe Incline, chairman of International Project Committee, 3 H Rotary Grant for RVEC and chairman of the board, 501c3, St. Mary’s Mission Hospitals of Kenya Foundation