Blindness and visual impairment is a serious problem affecting large populations in the world, especially within developing countries like Nigeria. World statistics show that causes of about 80 percent of blindness are avoidable and that is very unfortunate. Most of the blind people live in the poorest countries of the world. With poverty being both a cause and effect of blindness, a cycle is created that can be hard for communities to break out of. However, we do believe that people with disability deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.
Media reports on blindness put the population of blind people in Nigeria at over one million, with about three million others visually impaired. Similarly the country representative of a nongovernmental organization, Sight Savers, Dr Elizabeth Elhassen, asserted that Nigerians now account for one in five blind Africans.
With about 70 per cent of the 190 million Nigerians living in poverty and earning less than a dollar a day, the visually impaired do not have access to affordable treatment. With their hand -to-mouth existence healthcare is not a priority. Children get severe vision loss or blindness mostly due to treatable and avoidable conditions like Vitamin A deficiency, measles, cataract, Phthisis bulbi, trauma and optic atrophy. The burden of disability represents a major social, emotional and economic burden for families, communities, and the nation.
Bina Foundation therefore saw the need to lend a ‘helping hand’ to the blind and visually impaired in order to restore sight through specialist treatment, eliminate avoidable blindness; reduce the stigma and superstition associated with it and support people with visual impairment to live independently and participate equally in the society.
This it hopes to achieve through an innovative project—The Resource and Recreational Centre for the Blind. It has put in place special equipment and software to offer free computer training for the visually-challenged. Upon graduation, they should be able to use the internet for research, send and receive emails, type documents amongst other things.
The programmes of the blind centre aim at BREAKING THE BARRIERS OF BLINDNESS, creating solutions and gradually channelling the blind towards the use of assistive technology and products of independent living. This will encourage them to be self-reliant and confident in themselves.
Bina Foundation therefore is contributing to Vision 2020–The Right to Sight, which is a global initiative of the international Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and World Health Organization (WHO), with a coalition of international Nongovernmental organizations. The mission is to eliminate the main causes of avoidable blindness by the year 2020 by planning, development, and implementation of sustainable national eye care programs.
There is therefore an urgency to increase access to eye care. If priority attention is not given, the number of blind and severely visually impaired adults and children in the country will increase by over 40 per cent over the next decade.
The foundation believes in creating awareness, within key audiences, of the causes of avoidable blindness and the solutions to the problem; eliminating avoidable blindness and promoting equality of opportunity for disabled people.
People with low vision include those that cannot have their sight fully corrected by regular eye glasses, medicine or surgery, thus interfering with daily activities such as reading, writing, shopping, watching television, driving or recognizing faces. Low vision can occur as a result of conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, injury to the eye, cataracts etc. People with low vision especially students from various schools in Nigeria struggle to keep up with their studies and maintain good grades despite their disability and inability to afford expensive eye medications, which could eventually lead to blindness if untreated.
With the vision of the Foundation in mind to eliminate avoidable blindness, these people are sent to specialist hospitals where extensive eye examinations are conducted and the Foundation supplies them with the required expensive prescription medications for free. The Foundation pays for hospital visits, tests, simple procedures, and any devices such as eye glasses that might assist them. They also have access to assistive devices and products of independent living which help them tremendously in their studies and daily living. The foundation gives out white canes to the blind to help with mobility.
During medical outreaches, the foundation also carries out free eye examinations; treats the eye diseases they can, and refers the rest to hospitals in order to prevent blindness and restore sight.
- Braille books and audio books are produced for those that need them. The centre helps transcribe some of their reading materials to the form they are comfortable with and aid them in their studies.
- The centre teaches Braille to interested students especially children.
- Recorders are giving to students that need them as part of the foundation’s educational assistance
- Where possible the foundation assists those students with high JAMB (Joint admissions matriculation board) results to get admitted to educational programs of their choice.
- Recreational facilities like musical band and various games are available for their relaxation.
- Novels are transcribed to braille and audio format for Bina Foundation Library. The blind are able to borrow books from the library to read or listen to at their leisure. Also, students are encouraged to use other assistive devices to study in the centre.
- As part of the focus on education, the Foundation donates braille novels to blind centres across the nation to add to their library and at the disposal of the students. Bina Foundation hopes to eventually be able to give blind children braille novels to own for free.
The blind and people with low vision will in addition be encouraged to participate in other skills acquisition programmes offered by the foundation. These include among other things – catering and fast food, fashion and textile, shoe and bag making, bead-making and wire works,cosmetology and paint making, exercise, fitness, programmes and sporting activities including Blind Football and Guide running.
In order to further integrate them into the society, the foundation is recruiting and has already trained some blind volunteers to participate in its programmes especially teaching the new students and participating in medical outreaches.