In this step, Edson, Deputy Director of the Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Opthalmology (KCCO). He has been involved in planning and supporting the development of several key projects in Africa. Here, he expressed his views on the nature of planning.
Daksha: Hi Edson, could you introduce yourself, please?
Edson: Hello everyone, my name is Edson. I work with the Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology, and for the past 10 years have been involved in planning for VISION 2020 programme in different countries in Africa.
Daksha: Great, thank you. You’ve been involved in planning and supporting the development of several key projects in Africa. Could you briefly share your experience from Madagascar, particularly on the role of establishing partnerships?
Edson: The importance of having a local partner is invaluable for us as we come in as external support. Firstly, before undertaking any work we collected information for our catchment area (Atsinanana Region) where we were aiming to set up the programme. We began by collecting information at both the community level and at the hospital.
At the hospital level, we established if there was a willingness to offer services to the community in the larger population and what was there already in place in terms of infrastructure and in terms of the treatment that is provided.
At the community level, it was essential to know, what are the common eye
diseases/prevalence of eye disease? What are the people’s perceptions for instance of the diseases?
Daksha: What was the range of key stakeholders that you selected and why?
Edson: The other tip is to try and understand who are the other eye health providers in the area (potential partners). In every region, there are some eye care providers. We need to know what they are doing, what is their interest, what are the resources available, which specific diseases are they trying to take on?
Identifying all stakeholders is essential. We established partnerships with eye care providers, the NGOs, and it is very important to also involve the community leaders.
So in our project in Madagascar, the network was there, a long-established set up at the hospital, and also the involvement of an NGO called Lions Sight Madagascar. We also went to the community leaders to get their buy-in and support.
Daksha: And how did you proceed and what did you find in Madagascar?
Edson: Along with stakeholders we did a situational analysis: (we) explored the availability of human resources, infrastructure, did we have equipment in place, the present output level for eye care. Also, we looked at the management and a data collection system. In Madagascar, all of this was missing.
To move forward, one of the key objectives set by the stakeholders was to train and recruit a manager who could coordinate the programme. This freed up the clinical staff to focus on service delivery. An NGO was approached to secure appropriate equipment.
The strength of planning was the ownership taken by the stakeholders. Involve them in, setting a budget and agreeing on what needs to be done. To practically achieve this we brought together the partners for two days and agreed on what work to do. This ensured that all were working towards a common vision for the area.
This planning has to include hospital needs but also to address challenges at the community level, e.g access to eye care services.
If you don’t involve all stakeholders there are likely to be problems and the programme is likely, very likely, to fail because people are not involved adequately.
Daksha: So to summarise, what would you suggest are the 3 key take-home messages for anyone looking to improve an eye care service in their local setting?
Edson: So from our experience in Madagascar the 3 take-home messages are:
1. Spend time to know and engage all stakeholders (professional and community) pulling together their efforts, resources and experience avoiding duplications so as that it is possible to move together as a team. That way the patients would not be confused, e.g. by pricing policies.
2. Plans for appropriate human resources are essential for the delivery of eye care. Every eye surgeon (should be) with 4 key allied health staff (including an optometrist and nurses). The hospital staff are linked with support workers at a community level. A manager is essential to coordinate all activities.
In Africa, in most cases, we don’t have enough ophthalmic personnel or eye care workers so it would be quite a waste of your resources to try to recruit a clinician or clinical personnel to do management duties.
3. We have found that you must not try to scale up to deliver community services without having a plan in place. This is because you will come across a lot of challenges that you didn’t consider. Never scale up without having a plan. Planning will ensure that there is a clear alignment of the capacity of the hospital and an ability to expand services. These are
the things which we actually did in Madagascar and already that programme has managed to triple the number of patients they see within the first 2 years. Now the programme has been going for almost five years.
Daksha: Thank you Edson!