Orbis, the sight-saving charity that transforms lives by preventing and treating avoidable blindness and visual impairment, is appealing for support. For the next two months, the UK government will be doubling all public donations made to their Vision for Zambia appeal, helping the charity prevent blindness in twice as many children.
Ophthalmic Nurse, Ann-Marie Ablett (interviewed below) , is the winner of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales 2014 Humanitarian Relief Award, which recognises her amazing contribution and commitment to improving health services in areas of need around the world. She has volunteered with Orbis since 2003, using her annual leave to take part in 29 training programmes, including 7 in Zambia, sharing her skills with nurses and treating over 1000 patients.
Zambian children are four times more likely to suffer from blinding conditions, such as cataract, than those in countries such as the UK. Here the condition is thankfully rare, affecting 3 out of every 10,000. It has one of the highest rates of paediatric blindness globally however there are few ophthalmologists – 15 vs 3,000 here in the UK, and only one paediatric ophthalmologist in the entire country.
With the right access to treatment, half of paediatric vision loss can be avoided or cured. Orbis relies on its amazing medical volunteers, like Ann-Marie, to train eye care specialists, including nurses, surgeons and anaesthetists, who transform lives. Ninety percent of blind children do not attending school and 60% of die within a year of becoming blind; this appeal can make a real difference.
In order to save the sight of over 105,000 children, Vision for Zambia will raise funds to improve outreach work and train over 750 eye care professionals, including nurses. The UK public can help save a child’s sight for free – when they visit www.visionforzambia.org and sign up to find out more, a generous supporter will give £1. Until the 3rd February the UK government is matching all donations, so this simple act will generate £2.
Patient Talk – Who is Orbis and what do they do?
Ann-Marie Ablett – Orbis is a an eye charity focusing on blindness in developing countries, we focus on particularly on children, 90% of children in Zambia do not attend schools so that means there is no door open for them for the future and also shockingly 60% of children die within a year of becoming blind, that’s 3 in every 5 children because they haven’t had the opportunity or the means where they can be screened for avoidable or untreatable blindness.
Patient Talk – Ok and what does the training consist of?
Ann-Marie Ablett – Well we have Doctors, Nurses and biomedical engineers so my role as a volunteer nurse is I will work very closely with the local nurses, I will scrub with them and go through the practises and the principles of safe side surgery, reducing the risk of infection and the easiest way to do that is to make sure you wish your hands properly, there is a specific way when you are scrubbing for cases and so we are there to expose the patient to best practise and we teach the nursing staff because once we go in the door that’s all they say is ‘ help me, please help me to learn ‘ so that they can support their patients and help them to lead a productive life.
Patient Talk – Ok and can you tell us a bit more about the Vision for Zambia campaign?
Ann-Marie Ablett – It’s focusing on Vision for Zambia , focusing on screening and treating up to a 100,000 patients and we are going to do that by working in out of reach areas, we have already been working in Zambia since 2011 and now what we need to do to reach out to reach the patients in outreach areas is to train primary nurses so that they are in a position where they can focus and have a look at the patients eye and determine how early the treatment is required because the earlier you treat the condition, such as cataracts, the sooner the patients vision will be restored. The great thing about this appeal is the UK government is matching the donations which we will have from the public.
Patient Talk – What does being a volunteer involve?
Ann-Marie Ablett – Well it’s one of the easiest things that I have ever done, so what we do is work closely with the nurse, we will present the speciality they have us for ahead of time so that they can learn how to treat the patient so that they can teach their colleagues who are looking after the patients on the wards, so to do that they have got to have an understanding of the problem and the possible complications, nothing is 100% guaranteed and there is always a possibility of a complication so if they know what to look for they can then tell the patient like in cataracts surgery a pain that is not controlled by pain killers than that’s an indication that you need to contact the surgeon.
Patient Talk – Ok who should become a volunteer and how would someone apply to do the types of things that you do?
Ann-Marie Ablett – Well the easiest thing to do is ring up Orbis it’s the most amazing charity, it’s very supportive and I am lucky enough to go to all those countries where the need is greatest, 60% of children die within 1 year of becoming blind and that’s 3 out of 5 children so if you have the opportunity to go there and work with the local nurses to prevent that you would certainly take it up and once you go once you are going to be addicted as I have been addicted for 13 years now and I carry on going so if you were to contact Orbis.org.uk they will take it further and before you know where you are you will be on the plane to an interesting developing country and meeting new colleagues.
Patient Talk – Ok and I just wanted to ask, why did you volunteer?
Ann-Marie Ablett – There are 2 doctors at the hospital who volunteered at Orbis and I asked if I can go and they said ‘no orbis has got their own personal staff ‘ so I wasn’t going to take no for an answer so with further investigation and a bit of determination I found myself going to Zambia And once I got there I realised my practises were no different, we go there to exchange our skills and knowledge and the reception we had from the nurses, really nurses are nurses the world over and all we want to do is care for our patients but I would like to say that once you do it once you won’t ever want to stop just if you don’t do it it’s as though there is a piece if the jigsaw missing and to complete that part of your life you have to go and do something, it’s very addictive.
Patient Talk – Well I was going to say, what is the best thing you have got out of the experience?
Ann-Marie Ablett – Well the opportunity to change the lives of children and their family as well as to do the job I do and exchange the information I have got to make sure my skills are up to date and evidence based but when you think that just by going there for a week or maybe two week you can change the life of the patient and their family and the community, it’s such a warm feeling that you can’t get anywhere else, you can’t buy it and its really quite a selfish feeling because when you go home you think I did something that not many are doing, how lucky am I but then that’s because I work with Orbis and that focuses on education so it boils down to education.
Patient Talk – Ok and what other resources are out there for patients and for people who wish to donate?
Ann-Marie Ablett– Well if they sign up to VisionforZambia.org then we will receive a £1 from generous donors and that will be matched by the UK government so please just sign up to that.
Patient Talk – Ok thank you very much Ann-Marie.
Ann-Marie Ablett – Thank you.