01 November 2015

Welcome to Focus on Malawi!

Focus on Malawi is a project that works in rural northern Malawi, where most people support themselves from the produce of their small plots of land. A basic primary education is provided free, but secondary schools are fee-paying. Healthcare is patchy, and there are many young people orphaned by HIV-AIDS.

Until recently, healthcare in the majority poor areas has focused on maternity services, nutrition, health education, medical and emergency services. Eyecare has been low on the agenda. Eye problems exist, of course, but with additional needs owing to: climate, malnutrition, tropical diseases, and a lack of understanding about the care of even minor injuries.

As anywhere else, however, about half of the sight needs are presbyopia (long-sightedness), so a large proportion of the problem can be solved with simple reading glasses.

And this is where Focus on Malawi started, on its first visit in 2005, dispensing second-hand glasses sent by well-wishers in the UK and USA.

Subsequently, two eye clinic buildings (at Livingstonia and Ekwendeni mission hospitals) have been completed, with equipment supplied from the UK.

The ongoing challenge is to find, train and retain local staff to provide a permanent, sustainable service. We sponsored the training of our first ophthalmic clinical officer, who ran the Livingstonia clinic for two years (but who unfortunately is now moving away from the area). However, there is some good news: an even better qualified person has recently arrived at the hospital, and he is likely to be able to expand the service significantly.

In the meantime, there are two members of hospital staff at Ekwendeni Hospital (see pic), dispensing reading glasses. They charge a small fee to patients and the income helps to offset the clinic's costs.
Recent developments in internet access in East Africa have helped us improve liaison with staff and management. Teams from the UK visit every year or so, to monitor progress and to conduct clinics. These teams consist of volunteer optometrists, orthoptists and ophthalmologists (who pay for the cost of their travel and lodging).

Back home, we collect second-hand glasses, sort and measure them (see previous posts about our  famous Goggle Works parties) and send them out to Malawi.

Focus on Malawi is ably assisted by The Raven Trust, a charity which finds and ships (usually second-hand) equipment out to Malawi, and provides expertise in building, project management and training.

The Raven Trust provides a secure shipping service for our glasses and equipment and, when we visit, they kindly arrange our transport and accommodation. When we're not there, they keep an eye on how the work is going. They also provide registered charity accountability for our project.