Sarah Masajage and her fellow Community Health Promoters are waiting as local residents erect their communal tent. Used for a variety of community activities, on this day it will offer shelter for Living Goods customers attending the first ever Vision Camp in Bwaise, a huge slum settlement in the outskirts of Kampala.
During training sessions conducted by project partner VisionSpring, Sarah and her colleagues were trained in general eye health issues, vision screening, VisionSpring products, and were given guidelines on how to plan and promote a Vision Camp. The target audience for today’s event are people over 35, who will be tested for presbyopia – or near vision loss – an age-related condition that can be easily corrected with eyeglasses.
The morning starts off slowly with just a few residents gathering around. To the skeptics, this is hardly surprising. Eyesight doesn’t seem to figure much on most Ugandan’s healthcare agenda; in fact it is a rare sight to see a Ugandan wearing spectacles, especially among the poorer parts of the population. But it’s not long before the skeptics are proven wrong. As word spreads about free vision testing crowds start gathering, putting Sarah and her colleagues to the test. The clients are organized into registration, testing and sales areas. Never one to miss an opportunity, two more CHPs have turned up, offering the standard selection of Living Goods healthcare products to the waiting customers.
The last customer to be seen before heavy showers abruptly put an end to the day is 53-year-old Nakyeyune Aisha and her grandson, Calvin. “I have had problems reading small letters for the past four years,” says Aisha. “I can’t even thread a needle to repair our clothes, and it is getting worse with time. I fear it could be really bad in the future. I know people who wear glasses, and I know they can help, but at the hospital they charge 25,000 UGX just for the testing. So it is very good that Living Goods came here to our community and do the test for free. I don’t even know how much glasses would cost at the hospital, but I’m sure they would be very expensive.” Aisha laughs when she tells of her surprise today. “Here they were only 14,000 UGX, and I could try on different pairs until one fit me. It’s really not expensive at all!”
Though the vision camp is aimed at adults, Sarah also checks on Calvin. “For months his eyes have been tearing, he says it feels like ‘a stone in my eye.’ We tried the medication, but it didn’t help,” says Aisha. “Now they’ve told us they have to charge 70,000 just for another test before they can even tell us how much the operation would be.” Sarah writes a referral note for Calvin to go to Mulago hospital and though it isn’t free it will be cheaper and with more experts on hand. As Aisha and Calvin make their way, she offers a big smile and says, “We have both been helped today. I am very happy!”
Sarah, too, is very happy. “It was wonderful,” she says with pride and a smiling face. “People in the community would always complain to me about their eyes, so I knew the problem was there, but I didn’t expect this many people to show up today. We learned a lot in the training, but practice makes perfect, so we’ll keep getting better.”