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International disability charity CBM launches new campaign to tackle the blindness crisis in Zimbabwe

A member blog post by

Elfreda Whitty


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Every day, people become needlessly blind because of conditions that could be easily treated, like cataracts. Worldwide, a shocking 3 out of 4 people who are blind don’t need to be, and too often, losing sight also means losing the chance to go to school, live independently or earn a living.  International disability NGO CBM is shining a light on the urgent need to offer sight-saving treatment through its Light up Lives campaign, which aims to scale up access to sight-restoring cataract surgery and other treatments, especially in rural areas.

Hundreds of thousands of people are living needlessly blind in Zimbabwe due to treatment being inaccessible – a situation that has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world, the leading cause of which is cataract – a condition treatable with straightforward surgery. But the country has a desperate shortage of trained eye health workers and a lack of suitable hospital equipment. In addition, the economic crisis has meant that just getting transport to hospital is out of reach for many people.

In the last year, Coronavirus has made the situation much worse. As has been the case here in the UK, the virus has caused major delays to routine medical services. In a system that was already stretched to breaking point, the impact has been devastating.

At one point in 2020, CBM’s partner hospital, Norton Eye Unit, was the only hospital in the country still doing cataract operations. With protective measures in place, the medical team continued their sight-restoring operations. Demand was overwhelming, as Eye Surgeon, Dr Ute Dibb, explains:

“A normal day in Norton, pre-Covid, would mean that there would be long queues of people waiting to be seen… When Covid-19 struck, for quite some months Norton was the only eye unit in a country of 15 million people doing cataract surgeries. We’ve got very little space, we have very, very big numbers of patients coming. The challenge for us has been how to manage those numbers

What I hope that Light up Lives will achieve is more eye care services closer to the homes of the patients. We need more eye units, staffed and equipped, closer to the patients so that they can be treated without the patient having to travel great distances. Sight-restoring cataract surgery is one of the most cost effective healthcare interventions. It only takes around 10 minutes. It’s doesn’t cost very much. And in 10 minutes to go from disability to independence, it doesn’t get much better than that.

CBM’s Light up Lives appeal will improve access to inclusive sight-saving eye health services in Zimbabwe, working with local partners to train and equip eye health workers in District hospitals and provide outreach service to rural areas.

Between 18 February and 20 May 2021, all public donations to CBM’s Light up Lives appeal (up to £2million) will be doubled by the UK government. Giving people’s sight back will enable improved health outcomes, decreased dependency, improved livelihoods, inclusion in other community development programmes and, therefore, reduced poverty and vulnerability.

Public donations will support CBM’s work preventing blindness and transforming lives wherever the need is greatest. Match funding from the UK government will improve access to sight-saving eye-health services in Zimbabwe.

Find out more about the Light Up Lives campaign via the CBM UK website at

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