By Palma Ileye
Sightsavers Nigeria on 20th November, 2023 celebrated its 70 years of progress in eliminating disease, improving eye health and boosting disability rights.
According to the international development organisation it began work in the country in 1953 and since then has worked with Government and partners to support more than 1,249 cataract surgeries for children in Zamfara, Sokoto and Kaduna States; screen 1.3 million children for visual impairment in Northwest Nigeria and deliver 590 million treatments for Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTDs.
Specifically for trachoma, in a press release issued by Joy Tarbo, Communication Associate for Sightsavers stated that the number of people that were at risk of going blind has reduced from 38 million at programme inception to just over 3.7 million and millions of other people across three states of Kaduna, Sokoto and Zamfara have been weaned of the use of Ivermectin for elimination of Reiver blindness.
Sightsavers disclosed that it has also equipped around 100 service providers to support people with disabilities.
To mark the anniversary the organisation held two special events on 20th November in Abuja.
The first was a roundtable meeting of technical experts from the academia, Government, public health experts and corporate world who explored innovative thinking on developmental issues and local resourcing for elimination Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Which also showcased Sightsavers as an example of how impactful interventions to eliminate NTDs were possible.
Following this, there was a celebration event and Sightsavers was joined by staff, partners, donors and Government officials.
Key successes from the past seven decades was shared and awards given for key achievements, as well as commitments set for the future.
Dr Sunday Isiyaku, Sightsavers’ Country Director for Nigeria said: “I am so proud of what has been achieved over the past seven decades – so many lives have been transformed by the work to improve eye health, eliminate disease and boost disability rights.
“So much has already been achieved in all areas, thanks to all the work that has been put in by our partners and staff. But today is also about looking forwards and galvanising momentum for to what still needs to be done.
“We are committed to a future where people are no longer at risk from neglected tropical diseases, everyone has access to quality eye care, and people with disabilities can thrive in an inclusive society.”
Over the seven decades since it began work in the country, Sightsavers has partnered with Government, local organisations, and communities, to transform lives.
Highlights over the years include: Establishing the Nigeria Farmcraft Centre for the Blind in 1957 to provide training in crop cultivation, fishing, herding and rural crafts.
A pioneering programme set up in the 1960s with local teachers to help educate blind children – a forerunner of inclusive education work seen today.
Groundbreaking work to tackle river blindness in the 1970s and 80s, in collaboration with the World Health Organization, WHO.
Launch of the Nigerian Eye Health Programme in 2017 which supports eye health services to provide surgeries, screenings and training.
Delivery of the billionth treatment for NTDs in 2017 to a seven-year-old girl named Dorcas in Kaduna State Advocacy which led to the signing and ratification of the African Disability Protocol in 2023 – the first legally binding treaty to protect the rights of people with disabilities across Africa.
Highlights of the event also included the cutting of the 70th Anniversary cake.