President Bola Tinubu, on Friday in Abuja, declared his unwavering support for a partnership between the Federal Ministry of Health’s National Eye Health Programme and the Peek Vision Foundation, to provide more than five million pairs of eyeglasses to Nigerians with sight impairments.
According to a statement by Presidential spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale, the President recounted how close to home his first intervention in eye health was as he made a pledge on behalf of the Federal Government during a courtesy visit by the Founder and CEO of Peek Vision Foundation and Co-Founder of the Vision Catalyst Fund, Prof. Andrew Bastawrous.
“My first experience was with my mother of blessed memory. She was ill and she could not recognise me. When I intervened, she was treated and given a pair of glasses. The next question she asked me was: ‘I have you, and you are able to do this for me. What about those other women and their children who may not have somebody like you to intervene for them?’
“So I made a promise to her that I will pursue the mass provision of eye care vigorously and that I would provide free eye screenings and surgeries to people because of that question my mother asked me and because of her passion to see others healed. We eventually impacted the eye health of millions of people in Lagos, and you could see their joy over the immediate sight enhancements when they were given a pair of glasses,” the President fondly recalled.
Highlighting the pressing need for improved eye health services in Nigeria, President Tinubu expressed concern about the more than 24 million Nigerians grappling with varying degrees of vision impairments.
“We must act now because sight and vision is critical to economic development and growth,” the President said, recalling his visionary “Jigi Bola” programme, which was initiated during his tenure as the Executive Governor of Lagos State in 2001 and provided free eye screenings and surgeries to Lagosians while setting a new precedent for proactive eye care initiatives in West Africa.
“I am in support of this initiative, and I will encourage the mobilisation of further commitment to see this through and to reach vulnerable people all across our country. Some parents may not pay attention to this, but I will, because I am touched,” the President concluded.
Expressing his commitment to the cause, Prof. Bastawrous said: “Good vision unlocks human potential. It improves earning, learning, and wellness for individuals, communities, and countries. ”
He shared his personal story and the transformative power of vision care thus: “When I was 12, I was told by my teachers that I was clumsy and lazy, but the results of an eye exam explained I had very poor vision. And when I put on a pair of glasses, I saw the leaves on a tree for the first time, and my life completely changed and two weeks later, I was using my first pair of free eye glasses and I saw stars clearly for the first time. My grades improved, and the trajectory of my life completely changed, all because of a very cheap intervention that is 700 years old. Had that not happened, I would not be standing in front of you today. I would not be a professor, and I would not be involved in the work I am doing because sight gives opportunity,” the Peek Foundation CEO shared.
Professor Bastawrous noted that eye care is still chronically under-resourced in many countries, adding that the estimates in Nigeria show that 0.0002 percent of the health budget is spent on eye health.
“The good news is that President Tinubu has an excellent team in the health sector, and some of them have demonstrated tremendous leadership in the sector. What we would like to offer is to bring our Peek Vision methodology and platform to Nigeria to help unlock resources from multiple sources. In the countries where we have worked, Peek in Botswana unlocked 10 million dollars for the school programme, and in Kenya, 17 million Euros. Through the Vision Catalyst Fund, we have secured a donation of 200 million pairs of glasses, and we would like a significant proportion of that to come to Nigeria,” he concluded.
At the end of the event, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof. Mohammed Ali Pate, was joined by the Coordinator of the National Eye Health Programme, Dr. Oteri Okolo, and the Director of Public Health, Dr. Chukuma Anyaike, as he presented a National Policy Document on Eye Health to the President.