For years, patients with eye diseases in the northern Sierra Leone city of Port Loko and nearby villages had to travel about 40 miles to the nearest eye clinic.
Thanks to a partnership between the Sierra Leone Conference and Christian Blind Mission, the Primary Eye Care facility was opened May 24 in the Port Loko Government Hospital in northern Sierra Leone.
Alusine Koroma, the community health officer in charge of the facility, thanked the partnership for building the center. Before, he said, health care providers in the district struggled to provide good eye-care services. He said that Christian Blind Mission provided a new motorbike for the facility to travel into the community, and is also providing medicine for day-to-day operations.
“The eye is an irreplaceable part of the body and without it, poverty is closer,” he said.
For the past four years, the United Methodist Ruth and Lowell Gess Eye Hospital in Freetown has provided eye care services in the district through its outreach program.
Moges Teshome, ophthalmologist at the Gess Eye Hospital, said that most districts in Sierra Leone have ophthalmology centers in their general hospitals, but Port Loko does not.
“That is why we tried to integrate this facility with the government,” Teshome said. “We have done the construction and training of staff, procurement of instruments and taken care of consumer bills.”
Cases of cataracts and glaucoma are common in the district. In just six months this year, the hospital’s outreach team has treated about 400 cases in the population of 600,000. That number might rise to 1,000, Teshome said.
The Gess Eye Hospital will continue to provide resources for the facility until December, when the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health, which runs the government hospitals across the country, will take over the full management of the facility.
Dr. Allieu Wurie, Port Loko District director of primary healthcare, said the Ministry of Health will work with the ophthalmology staff to provide the required supervision and mentorship during the period of transition before the church hands over management in December.
He said the long-term United Methodist partnership with the Ministry of Health has yielded several benefits, including the role of the denomination during Ebola up to the recent partnership with Emory University, a United Methodist-related school in Atlanta. He said Emory recently sent equipment to the ministry to support skills training.
Sierra Leone Bishop John Yambasu said Christian Blind Mission has been crucial to the services the conference’s health board has continued to provide over the years. He encouraged the people of Port Loko to own the program and bring their patients to the facility.
May 24 was a banner day for United Methodists in Port Loko. Before the opening of the eye clinic, Bishop Yambasu attended a groundbreaking ceremony where a growing 71-member United Methodist congregation will construct a new building. The congregation has been worshipping at the local college chapel for about 40 years.
“There are those who build the church and there are those who come in to worship. There are those who plant and there are those who rest under the shade when the tree grows,” Yambasu said.
Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone.
News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.