Guyana gets first Low Vision Unit in Caribbean
Guyana Chronicle
April 19, 2002

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GUYANA became the beneficiary Tuesday of the first ever ‘Low Vision Unit’ to be established in the Caribbean.

Its specific function will be to assist in prolonging the vision of persons who are, in effect, on an “irreversible path to blindness”, by prolonging their sight and giving them some measure of hope” through special magnifiers and other aids, the gathering at the opening was told.

Acting High Commissioner for Canada, Mr Murray Kam, representing one of the collaborators on the project, said the clinic in Georgetown Public Hospital (GPH) compound holds great hope for approximately three per cent of this country’s population.

He said 22,000 Guyanese have “vision so poor that ordinary spectacles cannot correct or improve it sufficiently to enable them to perform certain tasks”.

Kam said the origin of the establishment is directly linked to work done by the rehabilitation officers of Guyana Society for the Blind, who discovered that some of the persons considered legally blind are in fact people with “low vision” who could be treated.

He said the facility was made possible through an initiative involving the collaborative efforts of Building Community Capacity Project (BCCP), which is funded, by Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Japanese Government, Caribbean Council for the Blind (CCB), Ministry of Health, some Private Sector entities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The diplomat said, over the years, CIDA, through BCCP, has been striving to strengthen collaboration amongst NGOs, the Government, the donor community and the Private Sector.

“We firmly believe that collaboration, especially when it promotes co-ordination and harmonisation of programmes and reduces duplication, is the best means of utilising scarce resources and implementing those that are sustainable,” Kam stated.

He declared that the centre is a very good example of this collaborative effort, a very interesting and innovative model of collaboration between civil society/government/private sector and the donor community for poverty reduction here.

Kam commended the contributions of the Health Ministry and lauded GPH for its role in putting the project on sound footing by providing space and staff, among other things.

The CCB contributed especially to funding for the training of technical personnel, he revealed.

BCCP Finance Director, Mr Keith Burrowes confirmed that, in addition to their provision of funds for the scheme, CCB, GPH and the Japanese Government also made available equipment and instruments such as magnifiers for the beneficiaries.

Several private ophthalmologists gave technical and other support, as well.

Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy said he hopes the venture could be used as a model for others and he promised to name an officer who would work on enhancing the relationship between his Ministry and NGOs, because there is no formal structure in place yet with direct responsibility for bridging the gap.

Head of GPH Department of Ophthalmology, Dr George Norton was elated, particularly in view of the backlog of cataract cases that significantly contribute to the local low vision situation.

He said, even though what is dedicated to eye care at the institution is disheartening and not what is required, when compared to some other Caribbean countries, things are in fact not so bleak here.

Norton pointed to other parts of the Caribbean where it would cost a patient at least US$450 to have cataract surgery and their backlog sometimes runs into two years.

However, Guyana still has to make do with about one-third of the minimum requirement of 30 instruments to run the Ophthalmology Department.

Honorary Consul General of Japan, Mr Hans Barrow congratulated the stakeholders and said he hoped the centre will be self-sustaining for a long time.

The ceremony was also addressed by Ms Racheal Hibbins, on behalf of CCB and Mr Cecil Morris, President of Guyana Society for the Blind.