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Speech by KZN Health MEC, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo on the occasion of the commemoration of the World Sight Day in KwaZulu-Natal : 9 October 2014

Programme Director

Allow me to start by thanking all the optometry staff and students who have given off their time and other resources to visit underserved communities eventravelling on the weekend to screen the community members at eGamalethunear Klaarwater for visual impairments.
Indeed, this is what we call patriotism; the love for your country and commitment to the marginalised communities is unquestionable and assist in our quest of giving access to quality healthcare for all.

This noble act has reminded me of what William Rowland of the WORLD BLIND UNION correctly said when depicting the situation of the visually impaired needy:
‘Poverty and blindness reinforce each other, contributing to increased vulnerability and exclusion. The majority of blind people find that their situation negatively affects their chances of going to school, obtaining work, and enjoying family and social life.’

Today is thus a very important day considering that the eye care professions around the world are celebrating the World Sight Day being guided by the International Association for the Prevention of Blindness and World Council for Optometry.

The main focus is on avoidable blindness and rehabilitation and we are elated that the University of KwaZulu Natal has fully endorsed and is supporting this global call. I was very excited to learn that the Department of Optometry at UKZN decided to prioritize those students who battle financially by organising sponsorship for them to be done visual examinations and be provided withspectacles at no cost.

I totally support and embrace the notion behind this noble action as based on correct premise that says: ‘good eye health and vision is essential for the academic success of university students. ‘
I also now take it upon myself to replicate your motto of See Well, Read Well, and Pass Well to be used by our School Health Teams as they traverse across the Province screening and treating school children on ailments that inhibit their ability to learn.

I may as well tell you that as part of primary health care Re-engineering, thedepartment of health has provided mobile eye vehicles to visit schools for early screening, treatment and care. We have these mobile vehicles based at NHI pilotDistricts such as uMgungundlovu and uMzinyathi District. Each mobile clinichas a team of workers that includes an optometrist. The total number of children seen by these mobile clinics to date is 3500 children.

The Department has also resumed ophthalmic nurses training at Edendale Nursing College. The training commenced last year with 20 students who all qualified by March 2014. Another group of 20 is currently undergoing training.We have high hopes that these nurses will assist in reducing the number of those that have sight problems.

We are also impressed that the University of KwaZulu-Natal has developed curriculum for qualified optometrists to be trained on therapeutic diagnosis so as to be able to treat minor eye condition. We eagerly await for the commencement of this coarse in 2015.
As the Department of Health, I need to point that we always welcome initiatives aimed at uplifting the health status of our citizens, campaigns like Call of Actionfor this World Sight Day of NO MORE AVOIDABLE BLINDNESS; may remain sheer slogans if positive minded South Africans professionals do not lend a hand.

Programme Director, we need to be always be conscious that as a country we are expected to fulfill our obligations set by the World Health Organization in its Vision 2020 plan which is as follows:
‘To eliminate the main causes of avoidable blindness by the year 2020 by facilitating the planning, development and implementation of sustainable national eye care programmes based on the three core strategies of disease control, human resource development and infrastructure and technology, incorporating the principles of primary health care.’

As a parting shot, I to take this opportunity to implore everyone here to be amessenger to the broader community out there that:

Ladies and gentlemen, I have no doubt that working together we will ultimatelybe confident in saying that we are on the right path to creating a continent thatwill meet the VISION 2020 obligations of A world in which no one is needlessly blind and where those with unavoidable vision loss can achieve their full potential.

I thank you.

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