Specsavers in Kirkintilloch and Bishopbriggs are sponsoring a course training frontline eye health workers in Malawi to look after the sight of children in the country and prevent unnecessary blindness.

The stores have pledged to support the course for the next three years. The £1,500-per-year fund will help to cover the running costs of the three-day course as well as providing accommodation for eye care workers and supplying them with their official certification upon completing the course. 

A project ten years in the making
The sponsorship follows a 10-year Scottish Government-funded LINK partnership between the Royal Hospital for Children, Glasgow, and the Lions Sight First Eye Unit in Blantyre, Malawi. 

Specsavers store director, Neil Drain, has visited the eye unit seven times during the past ten years with a multidisciplinary team of NHS eye care professionals to help train optometrists and ophthalmic clinical officers from all over Malawi in children’s ophthalmology. 

During that time, the Scottish team has ‘trained the trainers’, so that the specialist course can now be run by specialist paediatric-trained eye professionals in Blantyre. 

Neil said: ‘I was honoured to be part of this vital project over the past 10 years. Working alongside a fantastic team, it has been amazing to see the impact the project has had.

‘Talking to some of the professionals involved in running the course in Malawi, they have all noticed a huge increase in the number of people who are aware of and visit the facility for treatment.

‘Staff see a large proportion of children with conditions including cataracts and glaucoma which can result in blindness if left untreated.

‘Now the course has been established it will be run by Malawi staff with financial support from Specsavers in Kirkintilloch and Bishopbriggs.

‘I’m looking forward to watching the course flourish and see a host of optometrists and ophthalmic clinical officers gain their certificates over the next three years.’

Supporting the training programme
Dr Tim Lavy, ophthalmologist at NHS Forth Valley and team leader of the project added: ‘Having Neil in the team over the past 10 years has been great and his role has become increasingly important as the proportion of optometrists on the training course has grown. 

‘His on-going sponsorship of the course for the next three years will be a lifeline to the project and will enable the course to continue to run independently of UK teachers.’

This health partnership between Scotland and Malawi is part of the VISION 2020 LINKS Programme run at the International Centre for Eye Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. 

It has seen the training of two paediatric ophthalmologists and the creation of a Children’s Eye Health Tertiary Referral Facility in Blantyre to reduce unnecessary blindness among the 9 million children in the country. More than 130 frontline ophthalmic personnel have now been trained to recognise and refer children who need treatment or surgery to Blantyre.  

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