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Funding from Isle of Man supports efforts to prevent blindness in West Africa

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Funding provided by the Isle of Man has supported a campaign to eradicate a form of preventable blindness in one of the world’s poorest countries.

The lives of thousands of people have been transformed thanks to a partnership between the International Development Committee of the Council of Ministers (IDC) and UK-based charity Sightsavers.

Financial assistance from the IDC has funded vital surgeries, medical supplies, improved sanitation and a programme of community education to tackle blinding trachoma in Guinea Bissau, West Africa.

Amalia TeThe bacterial infection is spread by flies or via contact with an infected person’s hands or clothing. Years of repeated infection scars the inside of the eyelid so severely that it turns inward and the lashes rub on the eyeball, scratching it and damaging the cornea.

Trachoma affects mainly women and children in hot, dry and dusty areas where there is poor sanitation and a lack of water. Guinea Bissau ranks 177 out of 187 countries in the UN Human Development Index and experiences high levels of neglected tropical diseases.

Sightsavers, founded in 1950 by Sir John Wilson and originally called the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind, is working with partner organisations to eliminate trachoma by 2020. The focus of this campaign is a public health strategy known as SAFE, which combines measures for the treatment of active infection with preventative action to reduce disease transmission –

  • Surgery to correct the advanced, blinding stage of the disease (trichiasis),
  • Antibiotics to treat active infection
  • Facial cleanliness
  • Environmental improvements in the areas of water and sanitation

The IDC is responsible for funding aid programmes in the world’s less developed countries and for responding to international emergency and disaster appeals on behalf of the Isle of Man Government.

The Committee supported Sightsavers through the award of a multi-year grant, which provides financial assistance over three years for larger charitable projects. The £278,000 grant to Sightsavers funded more than 4,700 trichiasis surgeries and scaled up the mass distribution of antibiotic drugs.

Assistance from the Isle of Man has also led to an improvement in the availability of safe drinking water through the refurbishment of 77 water pumps and the construction of 400 latrines. Training community health volunteers and running promotional campaigns in the media have helped to raise awareness of important hygiene issues, as part of the drive to educate people in Guinea Bissau about disease prevention.

IDC Chairman Phil Gawne MHK said:

‘This project in Guinea Bissau embodies the aims of the Isle of Man Committee. Our funding has assisted the outstanding work carried out by Sightsavers, delivering improvements that are continuing to make a genuine difference to the lives of vulnerable people. The results have been amazing and I am delighted that we have been able to play a part in the charity’s drive to eradicate blinding trachoma.’

He added:

‘The type of multi-year grant used to support Sightsavers enables the Isle of Man to establish long-term partnership agreements with charities working in countries ranked as “low” on the UN Human Development Index. This approach strengthens our ability to help those in poverty become more self-sufficient and less dependent on foreign aid. It provides charities with a secure funding stream for three years, allowing greater certainty when planning and delivering programmes to address the root causes of poverty and hunger or to identify opportunities for better health and education.’

‘I recognise that overseas aid is an emotive issue at a time when the Isle of Man is experiencing its own financial challenges. However, as an internationally responsible country, it is important for the Isle of Man to play its part in efforts to create a better future for all the world’s citizens.’

Sightsavers is working in more than 30 countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean to support its aims of a world where no-one is blind from avoidable causes and where visually impaired people participate equally in society.

Julia Strong, Trusts Manager at Sightsavers, said:

‘Sightsavers has been incredibly grateful for the Isle of Man IDC’s support towards our trachoma elimination project in Guinea Bissau over the past three years. There have been significant achievements during this period, strengthening the country’s health system and supporting 4,784 trichiasis surgeries. This has contributed towards a 32% reduction in the estimated national backlog of patients with trichiasis.’

She added:

‘With the Isle of Man’s support we were also able to increase distribution of the antibiotic Zithromax to prevent trachoma through our sustainable community volunteer drug distribution system. As a result, prevalence of trachoma in the Cacheu region of Guinea Bissau has reduced to just 0.3% from 30.3%. Thousands of people, including women, children and those with disabilities, have been protected from avoidable blindness thanks to the Isle of Man’s support.’

For further information about the work of the International Development Committee and its funding schemes visit the Government website.

Photo: Amalia Te, who lives in Bijimata Village, had trichasis surgery, preventing her from going blind.

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