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Botswana set to become first country in the world to provide eye health services to a generation

Children from Goodhope who have been part of the pilot eye health programme join Assistant Health Minister of Health and Wellness Hon. Dikgang Philip Makgalemele and Ms Katy Ransome, British High Commissioner to the Republic of Botswana, at the event on 19 October.

The Government of Botswana celebrated its progress in bringing vision to an entire generation of schoolchildren at a special event hosted by the British High Commission in Gaborone on Thursday 19 October. 

The event marked the partnership of Batswana and international organisations for promoting better eye health. It also celebrated the launch of a new programme to screen and treat school children for eye health issues across Botswana.

Led by the Government, the comprehensive eye health programme will identify schoolchildren with vision problems and link them efficiently and accurately to appropriate eye health services.  This is made possible using the latest public health research and evidence-based solutions from Peek Vision, which has been working in Botswana since 2014.

Thanks to the commitment of the Government and the support of national and international eye health organisations, Botswana now has the opportunity to eliminate avoidable visual impairment in an entire generation of school children by 2020.

In Botswana, an estimated one in ten school children have an eye health or vision problem, and it is thought that 30,000 children could benefit from access to spectacles and other vision services.

Children who see better are able to learn better, and treating vision and eye health problems in childhood has long-term benefits for wellness and productivity.  Economic analysis indicates that by putting a nationwide comprehensive eye health programme in place, Botswana could gain $1.3bn over the lifetime of the children screened through improved productivity and reduced long-term healthcare costs. 

These long-term benefits require a relatively modest outlay, which can be covered through existing budgets and means that spending on this programme eye health programmes are an extremely cost-effective and sustainable investment.

In addition to cementing the partnerships made between the Government of Botswana and UK and other international health organisations, the event provided an opportunity to celebrate the progress made so far in improving child eye health by providing screening and treatment.  It was well attended by representatives from the Ministry of Health and Wellness and Ministry of Basic Education, eye health organisations working in Botswana, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and representatives of the Botswana Optometrists Association (BOA) and private optometry practitioners.

Nearly 13,000 school children in Botswana have been screened since July 2016, resulting in nearly a thousand children receiving spectacles, medication or hospital treatment. This has proved that the systems and services designed for Pono Yame can work nationally in Botswana, providing a unique opportunity to bring better vision to an entire generation of schoolchildren.

Children from Goodhope attended the event, speaking about their experiences of the programme. It was also attended by education and health professionals who have been involved in the programme, which has taken place in 49 schools so far.

The existing eye health programme has been implemented in collaboration with Peek Vision Botswana.  The programme has been supported by:

  • Addenbrooke’s Abroad (Cambridge Global Health Partnerships) – a UK-based charitable programme which manages health partnerships between Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) and hospitals, governments and health organisations in other countries.
  • Botswana Optometrists Association – the leading professional organisation for Optometrists in Botswana.
  • Botswana­-UPenn Partnership – a partnership of the Government of Botswana, the University of Botswana and the University of Pennsylvania devoted to building capacity in sustainable and high quality healthcare.
  • The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust – a charitable foundation with a mission to leave a lasting legacy, owned by the whole Commonwealth, in honour of Her Majesty The Queen.
  • Seeing is Believing (Standard Chartered Bank Botswana) – Standard Chartered Bank’s global community investment programme to tackle avoidable blindness.

Andrew Bastawrous, CEO and co-founder of Peek Vision said: “Vision is not just a health issue – it is a social issue, an educational issue, a gender issue.  Peek is delighted to be working with the Government of Botswana and our partners to bring better vision and health to the next generation.”