It was an assurance from the heart, as the Deputy Minister is herself visually impaired and has two of three daughters who are similarly challenged.
“People like me today stand as a testimony that blindness and success can go together,” she said.
Minister Bogopane-Zulu was the guest of honour and a keynote speaker at the official opening of the children’s eye-care centre, along with MEC for Health in KwaZulu-Natal Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo.
The project was a joint effort between government and the private sector to “save the sight of children and prevent blindness”. Other partners involved were the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness and ORBIS, the international non-profit non-governmental organisation dedicated to saving sight worldwide.
According to Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu, it is estimated that there are 1,24 million blind children in the world with 90 per cent in developing countries. Africa alone accounts for
320 000 while in South Africa, the province of KwaZulu-Natal is home to about 2 000 blind children.
In the past, blindness was often a result of poverty manifested through a lack of universal access to health resources, particularly preventative healthcare. Some blindness among children, if detected early and treated, can be prevented, leading to fewer blind adults, the Minister said.
She stressed that it was important to groom the personalities of the disabled children and help identify their skills path early in their lives.
Given the variety of causes for visual impairment, the impact of HIV on this condition should not be neglected.
The new centre at Chief Albert Luthuli Hospital is the only one of its kind in the province and the second in the country, and will work through a system of referrals.
Dr Dhlomo said: “This centre is highly specialised and other institutions will refer their patients to this facility. As a province, we have taken a decision to create specialist posts including ophthalmology and paediatrics at various hospitals in the province to entrench a notion of healthcare accessibility.”
Public-private partnerships in health is a growing phenomenon and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) is already active in many African countries including Ghana, Cameroon, Angola and Burkina Faso where paediatric centres had been opened. Together, with ORBIS, IAPB aims to open 10 more centres in Africa in the next 10 years.