For Talaa Kipkoech, 68, her itching eyes did not bother her at all but little did she know that she was slowly becoming a statistic of people losing their eyesight in the country.
One morning five years ago, Talaa realized that her left eye was losing sight, a development that made her seek medical treatment at Chesongoch centre in Marakwet East Sub- County. “The itching persisted and at the health centre I was referred to Iten County Referral Hospital and doctors told me that I was going blind which scared me.”
Talaa is among the more than 200,000 people living with blindness in the country according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is estimated that 28 million people worldwide have severe vision impairment, with 750,000 of them being Kenyans.
Dr Marion Kurgat, an ophthalmologist at Iten County Referral Hospital (ICRH) says Talaa’s case, had earlier been diagnosed would have been corrected. “The commonest cause of both blindness and visual impairment is cataract, accounting for 38% of all visual loss. At ICRH we see an average of 30 patients per day and most of the cases result from allergic conjunctivitis which is caused by dust, cold and smoke.”
She was speaking during the official opening of an eye unit at ICRH, an event also used to mark this year’s World Sight Day. The theme for Sight Day 2021 is ‘Love your eyes.’
The eye unit, a partnership project of Elgeyo Marakwet County and Operation Eyesight Universal which saw both inject Sh5 million and Sh4 million respectively was handed over to the health department.
Operation Eyesight Universal funded the first phase of the project which hosts an outpatient unit while the County will construct the inpatient section which will include the wards.
Operation Eyesight Universal, an international development organization working to eliminate avoidable blindness and restore eyesight in developing countries.
Alice Mwangi Country Manager – Kenya Operation Eyesight Universal said it was unfortunate that most people lost their sight through avoidable blindness.
She said: “This is what made us join hands with the County Government of Elgeyo Marakwet and I am happy to report that we have a working relationship that is slowly yielding results.”
In 2011, Operation Eyesight Universal began supporting the delivery of quality eye care services in Elgeyo-Marakwet County. The hospital received its first eye diagnostic equipment, including an ophthalmoscope, retinoscope, trial box, slit lamp and operating microscope.
Mary Kipchumba, Health and Sanitation Chief Officer said about 100,000 people were screened between 2019 and 2020 where 13,000 people were treated and another 500 had surgeries. “In 2019 we had an impressive screening but this was slowed down by covid-19 last year. With the opening of this facility, we hope to reach more people now that we have a fully-fledged unit.”.
County Secretary Paul Chemmuttut, said the facility will offer all eye care services from screening, specialized services, surgery and checkup under one roof, making it a one stop shop while Chair County Public Service Board added that the board would consider any posting requests for staff by the facility to ensure its smooth running.
Also present during the occasion were Health Administration CO Josephat Maiyo, Lorretta Kotut CO Planning, Josephat Tanui CO Office of the Governor, Patrick Kosgei, Director Medical Services, ICRH Medical Superintendent Benjamin Kimaile among other County Staff.