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LIBERIA LAUNCHES FIRST NATIONAL EYE HEALTH POLICY PROGRAM

The government of Liberia is expected to launch its first national eye health policy in eight years to tackle avoidable blindness and vision impairment. However, the policy comes as eye health services and health systems in Liberia have been impacted by years of civil war, political turmoil, and a devastating Ebola outbreak. In 2020, there were an estimated 480,000 people with vision loss in the country. The launch of the new policy, according to a release developed with support from the international development organisation Sightsavers and Irish Aid, is an important moment for the nation’s health, as it sets out official guidance and commitments required to help rebuild and improve eye health services. Balla Musa Joof, Country Director at Sightsavers, in a release said: “We congratulate the government on achieving this significant step towards reducing the burden of vision impairment in Liberia. We are particularly pleased to see the importance placed on collaboration with schools, because when we tackle avoidable vision impairment from an early age, children can learn and adults can earn.

Good eye health creates a ripple effect on the lives of individuals, families, and communities, which will ultimately help the nation to thrive and reduce poverty and inequality.”

According to the release, the new policy will support the government to achieve universal health coverage, thus ensuring that everyone has access to eye health services without financial hardship.

The policy will also look at priority areas that include; improving access to eye health services, particularly for people with disabilities, women, and remote communities, training eye health professionals and improving their geographical spread.

Other thematic areas are ensuring there are sufficient, well-equipped eye health facilities, including strong health management information systems. Expanding regional and community eye health services and outreach and Integrating eye health into wider health and education systems.

However, Sightsavers has supported eye health work in Liberia for over 20 years as well as assisting with the new eye health policy. It is also involved in projects that will help make eye health services more inclusive, particularly for women and people with disabilities, and training teachers to do basic vision screenings and provide deworming medication.

The policy was launched at a Ministry of Health event at Golden Gate Hotel in Paynesville, just a few weeks ahead of World Sight Day (12 October). The announcement shows positive action, in line with Sightsavers’ World Sight Day call for global leaders to recognize the importance of inclusive eye health.

The new policy will mean more people like a young man, only identified as Arthur, from Bong County, can be supported. Arthur had vision issues from early on in his life, which was affecting his education. He was unable to see the blackboard clearly and worried about exams because he could not see the questions properly. Arthur was diagnosed with refractive error, which includes short- and long-sightedness, and provided with glasses through a school health project supported by Sightsavers. “I can see the blackboard clearly… Things are fine with school, when I’m wearing my glasses, things are fine.”

Now that he can see the blackboard, his grades have improved and is doing well at school. Balla adds: “Progress has been made but work still needs to be done to ensure eye health is fully represented in health planning, resourcing, and funding.”

We encourage the government and other stakeholders to collaborate and focus on the parameters required to deliver universal health coverage. We need to travel together on the journey and create strong coordination at community, regional and national levels to ensure we leave no one behind when it comes to eye health.”

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