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An IAPB supported mission providing eye care services precisely where they are needed most.

“I was blind for three and a half years. Then I fully recovered my sight thanks to surgery in Germany.” This is the story of Moise Tchapo, a man from Bassar, who, after his own experience, decided to dedicate himself to a vital mission: to bring eye care services to Togo. Visually impaired people who live in northern Togo have to travel for days, or even weeks, to reach the very few health facilities that can provide eye care.

“Although good quality interventions are available in the capital Lomé, the situation is very complex in the rest of the region,” Mr Tchapo explains. “In northern Togo, where approximately two million people live, there are no healthcare centres that can offer eye care.” Just think that, to find a hospital with an eye clinic, you need to travel for nearly 59km to reach Sokodé or 63km to get to Kara.” This is why Mr Tchapo has been fighting for years, together with the charity that he founded, Fondation Solidaire Terre d’Espérance Togo, to bridge this healthcare gap in his home country. His mission has been successful also thanks to a collaboration with the Fondazione San Francesco d’Assisi and IAPB Italy. Working together, Mr Tchapo’s dream has become a real project.

Since 2016 the FON.T.ES – SO.T.ES – TOGO charity, thanks also to the financial support from IAPB Italy, has carried out mass screenings in the villages of the Bassar area, promoting a culture of prevention and information on eye disease. “In Togo, vision impairment and blindness are considered a punishment from God. This is why many people often hide their eye conditions or refuse to treat them,” Mr Chapo explains, adding that he used his own experience to convince other compatriots to overcome their fears. It was precisely by sharing his story that Mr Tchapo managed to win the trust of the initially sceptical locals, and official statistics can confirm just as much. “With IAPB Italy’s valuable contribution, in 2016 we managed to help 900 people, in 2017, approximately 1,200 people, then nearly 2,000 in 2018 and finally just over 3,000 patients in 2019.”

Of the 138 people that were in need of eye surgery in 2019, 24 patients had already completed their full treatment by June 2019. “Three pterygium, four trichiasis and 17 cataracts, including final check-ups after surgery at the Kara hospital. They all went back home, full of joy and with a smile on their faces,” continues Mr Tchapo. “People receiving cataract surgery are all affected by bilateral cataract, or by bilateral trichiasis and bilateral pterygium. They can all see better, now”. The 2019 press release that announced the good news, read, “We chose this hospital

taking into account not only the cost of the surgery, but also the distance between the cities, as some patients would have been in need of assistance from their relatives after the surgery or would have needed to come back for check-ups afterwards.”

The next step was to open an outpatient clinic in Bassar. “IAPB Italy was on our side throughout this brave undertaking and allowed us to open the clinic on 28th September 2020. Lots of people come here everyday to undergo eye examinations or receive treatment,” Mr Tchapo said, referring to some significant figures. “In the few months since the opening, we managed to help 52 people, who were all able to receive eye surgery.”

The same enthusiasm and satisfaction were expressed by Mr. Giuseppe Castronovo, President of IAPB Italy. “With our project in Togo, our commitment for the prevention of blindness has gone beyond our national borders,” commented Mr Castronovo. “Even a simple cataract surgery can help restore sight and there are many eye diseases that could be easily avoided by simple prevention measures. However, the vast majority of rural populations are prevented from accessing eye care services due to the high cost of traveling to very limited specialised clinics and hospitals.”

To overcome this obstacle, “IAPB Italy chose to proudly support the FON.T.ES – SO.T.ES – TOGO charity in this meritorious initiative of prevention and care,” added Mr Castronovo. The results were extremely positive, especially considering the hardships caused worldwide by the Covid-19 pandemic in the past year.

“We have continued to do everything that is possible, abiding by restrictions to contain the spread of the virus and implementing safety measures protecting healthcare staff and patients.” Now Moises Tchapo is looking to the future with optimism: training projects for local healthcare workers and the expansion of a school project aiming to integrate visually impaired children into the community are in the pipeline.

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