Prof Andrew Bastawrous with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu
Twenty-four million Nigerians are currently living with sight loss, yet less than 0.0002% of the country’s current health budget is spent on eye health. In an historic meeting last week, ICEH Professor Andrew Bastawrous met with Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the President of Nigeria, to tackle this inequality and further the issue of eye health within the country.
Prof Bastawrous is the co-founder of Peek Vision, a social enterprise that focuses software, programme design and data intelligence platforms to help community and school eye health programmes become more efficient, more equitable and more effective. Peek have a number of highly successful partnerships in Africa and around the world, powering programmes and reaching over four million people to date.
At the meeting, President Tinubu made a proclamation to provide unwavering support for and improve access to eye health, especially for vulnerable people living with sight loss. He also recalled a personal connection to the initiative:
“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.”
Also present at the meeting were ICEH professor Fatima Kyari, subregional Chair West Africa for the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness, and ICEH alumnus Dr Oteri Okolo, the coordinator of the National Eye Health Programme.
Speaking further about the potential for change in the country, Prof Bastawrous said: “President Tinubu has an excellent health team, and many 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.”
The Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Professor Muhammad Ali Pate, affirmed the commitment of the President, reiterating that good eyesight and vision is critical to economic development and growth of the nation. As a policy statement he declared that eye health will be made available, accessible and affordable to all through integration at all levels of healthcare – tertiary, secondary and primary. He also committted to the health budget being increased, with a good proportion provided for eye health and vision care.