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Professor Allen Foster: improving access to eye health care [21 Stories]

Posted on: Thursday, May 11th, 2017

After joining CBM as a general medical officer in a mission hospital in Tanzania in 1975, Allen Foster went on to become CBM’s International President from 2006-2013. He is now Professor of International Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Director of the International Centre for Evidence in Disability.

Prof. Dr. Allen Foster holding a child, visiting Manzese, Tanzania

Eye care with impact

“I’m proud to have been part of an organisation making such an impact in improving access to eye health care and preventing blindness. In 1975, there were only five surgical eye specialists in Tanzania. The Mvumi Mission itself was in a very dry area with poor rainfall. Many mothers and children had severe trachoma sometimes resulting in blindness. 

Often, blind people had to travel long distances over several days or more to get sight-saving cataract operations.  Once, we flew some 500 miles to reach an 8-year-old child, blinded by cataracts. She had to come back with us for an operation at the mission hospital. I remember her mother’s joy, when she returned home with some vision.

More to be done

Nowadays there is much greater access to eye health care than there was 40 years ago. Many countries have their own specialists and national training programmes, in many cases thanks to training and support from CBM, so are less dependent on expatriates. But CBM’s work is far from finished. Access to health care is not uniform and many vulnerable people are still excluded. Services need to be made more equitable and affordable.

Our priorities have shifted too. 

We are reaching out now as an inclusive development organisation, and forging partnerships to provide and inform future care. Significant support, for example, has been given to the International Centre for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Their work has been crucial in reducing global blindness, through the training and education of eye workers all over the world including those at CBM.

The challenges of a new direction

I’m particularly proud that CBM’s focus extended from blindness to all disability while I was International President. The needs of people with disabilities have been overlooked for too long, even good data and research have been lacking.

Relatively little is known about the magnitude and causes of hearing impairment and physical impairment. This information is essential to develop effective interventions for prevention and treatment. It is also important to improve the access and quality of general health services for persons with disabilities and to find out why this hasn’t happened so far.  

CBM is helping to improve understanding, by supporting our work at the International Centre for Evidence in Disability. We are building an evidence-base so we can then deliver the most effective services and advocate for change.”

This is one of the 21 Stories. Read more stories celebrating those who have shaped our work