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Life Healthcare tackles biggest disability in the country

Life Healthcare funds R13 million for eye care and up-skilling of blind and partially sighted persons in partnership with SA National Council for the Blind.

JOHANNESBURG, Aug 7, 2018 – According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) an estimated 253 million people globally live with vision impairment, 36 million are blind and 217 million have moderate to severe vision impairment [i].

The prevalence of vision impairment in South Africa is the highest of all disabilities (32%) and it is estimated that 97% of all blind and partially sighted people in the country are unemployed. The top three causes of blindness worldwide are cataracts which accounts for 39.1% of global blindness, uncorrected refractive errors which accounts for 18.2% of global blindness, and glaucoma which accounts for 10.1% of global blindness [ii].

“As a leading player in the healthcare industry Life Healthcare is well-positioned to not only contribute to the improvement of health outcomes in South Africa, but to provide education and empower people from disadvantaged backgrounds to take responsibility for their health,” says Dr Shrey Viranna, Group Chief Executive Officer of Life Healthcare Group.

Since 2006, Life Healthcare, in partnership with the SANCB and the Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness Unit have screened some 53,845 patients using two mobile eye clinics fitted with mobile ophthalmic equipment. A third mobile clinic was added this month at a cost of R1 million donated by Life Healthcare. These mobile eye clinics perform essential eye examinations and provide spectacles and, where necessary, refer patients for further treatment. Eye screening tours by the mobile eye clinics are scheduled as agreed by SANCB’s Bureau for the Prevention of Blindness Unit in partnership with the relevant provincial Departments of Health to peri-urban and rural areas.

Aligned to the Group’s focus on health and education, Life Healthcare contributed R12 million to the South African National Council for the Blind (SANCB) which will be used by SANCB Optima College for the training and skills development of blind and partially sighted people. Optima College is the training facility for SANCB and is one of the only colleges in Southern Africa that caters exclusively for blind and partially sighted people.

The Group’s total commitment to SANCB of R13 million was officially acknowledged with the unveiling of a plaque and cheque handover at an event presided over by the Deputy Minister of Social Development, the Honourable Hendrietta Ipeleng Bogopane-Zulu MP on Wednesday, 7 August 2018.

“We are acutely aware of the inequality in healthcare in our country and have embraced the National Health Insurance proposition which promotes universal healthcare access. Our approach is to drive strategically relevant programmes that complement shortfalls in healthcare services and training in South Africa both at national level with community involvement at grass roots level,” explains Viranna.

The unemployment rate of people with vision impairment exceeds that of the general population due to the often inaccurate perception that they are unable to carry out daily tasks. One of the aims of Optima College is to change misperceptions by training and upskilling South Africans who are visually impaired.

“We are grateful to have the Life Healthcare Group as a strategic partner since they understand the importance of skills development for people with visual impairment. Ultimately the objective of the training is to enable students to maximise their potential and to function as independently as possible. At the same time funding gives students an opportunity to compete competitively with their sighted counterparts for limited job opportunities available in the open labour market,” says Mr. Eugene Modiri Matshwane, Acting National Executive Director of SANCB and Principal of the Optima College.

Partnerships like these further demonstrate the value of the commitment of the private healthcare sector to uplifting socio economic conditions of disadvantaged communities, and improving their quality of life.

“The Life Healthcare Group is privileged to be associated with SANCB and the way in which the community is benefiting from the wonderful work they are doing. The support will add further impetus to achieving the Council’s vision of facilitating a network of organisations that collaborate towards the prevention of blindness and securing the full participation and inclusion of blind and partially sighted people in all aspects of a diverse South African society,” concludes Viranna.