Research shows impact of Sightsavers’ work on eye health in Mozambique

Mercia Cumaio, July 2021

Sightsavers has been working to improve eye health services in Mozambique since 2007, helping to restore sight to many thousands of people in the country.

I have worked for Sightsavers in Mozambique for more than a decade: during that time, I’ve seen the difference we can make to people’s lives. In 2007, Sightsavers helped to establish the first ever specialist eye department at Nampula Central Hospital.

Now, a research paper shows exactly what we have achieved.

The study highlights a number of positive changes in the years after the eye department was set up. It shows that between 2011 and 2018, the prevalence of blindness in Nampula Province fell by more than a third. The proportion of people receiving cataract operations nearly trebled, while eye health services expanded from one to 19 districts.

These fantastic results are testament to the hard work of my colleagues and Sightsavers’ partners here in Mozambique and in the UK. We also wouldn’t be where we are today without the generosity of many of our supporters, who have backed this programme since the very start.

Trachoma patient Maria Fonte gives Mercia a hug after the bandages are removed from her eyes following sight-saving surgery.
Mercia Cumaio, pictured on the right with patient Maria after her eye surgery, has worked for Sightsavers for more than 10 years.
A woman with short hair and a white t-shirt stands in a doorway, smiling.
Maria, from Nacaroa district, is just one of the patients Sightsavers has helped in Mozambique. She had trachoma surgery and is now free from pain and the threat of blindness.

Reaching those who are most in need

Mozambique is one of the least-developed countries in the world. The high levels of poverty and the shortage of healthcare staff make it a priority for eye health interventions.

Since we started working to improve eye health services in the country’s northern region, it has been rewarding to see how we’ve been able to make a difference here. At that time, fewer than 150 operations a year were being done here. Now, the figure has risen to several thousand.

Through our efforts in northern Mozambique, we have helped to provide life-changing eye health services to a great many people throughout the region. This is borne out by the findings of the research. Between 2011 and 2018, the study found that the prevalence of blindness reduced by more than a third, from 6.2% to 4.5%. In our experience, this is a substantial drop in a short space of time.

Another positive finding was that cataract surgical coverage had risen from 10.1% to 28.3%. Cataract surgical coverage is a measure of the percentage of people who have had cataract surgery, out of the total number who are in need of surgery in a given area. This is an important indicator for eye health, and for monitoring progress towards universal health coverage.

The study found that the overall quality of cataract surgery had improved too. This is clear from the fact there was an increase in ‘good’ visual outcomes and a decrease in ‘poor’ visual outcomes compared with the 2011 study.

As well as setting up a specialist eye department at Nampula Central Hospital, we have also run outreach camps in the districts in Nampula Province. We have adapted our services to make sure they are accessible, in particular for people with disabilities. The video below explains more about our work to make eye health more accessible, including the work we’re doing in Nampula.

A photo of a landscape, with forested plains and a few low houses. In the background is a large mountain, wreathed in mist.

Rapid assessments of avoidable blindness

Our recent research paper was based on two rapid assessments of avoidable blindness (RAABs) in northern Mozambique in 2011 and 2018. A RAAB is a relatively quick and simple-to-use survey that helps us understand the scale and type of visual impairment affecting a given population.

More about RAABs
Participants at a blood collection training session.

Sighsavers’ research

We use our research to inform our development work, by generating evidence that our programme teams can use to improve lives around the world.

Visit the research centre

While the team in our country office and our partners are delighted with the results of this study, the research also shows that there is still more to do in northern Mozambique. One of the findings that leaps out is around gender equity. The prevalence of blindness in men dropped significantly from 6.1% in 2011, to 3.8% in 2018. However, the decrease for women was much smaller, from 6.3% in 2011 to 5.3% in 2018.

It’s also clear that fewer women are accessing cataract services. Cataract surgical coverage among men was 40% in 2018, while for women the figure was just 19.4%.

The study highlighted that while the figures for blindness had decreased between 2011 and 2018, the percentage of people with severe visual impairment had stayed the same, and the percentage of people with moderate visual impairment had risen from 5.9% to 11%. This shows that more effort is needed to reach people in the region who, while not blind, may still have difficulties with their sight.

All of this suggests that there is still work to be done in northern Mozambique. We are continuing to adapt our eye health programme here so it reaches more women, people with disabilities and those who live in marginalised communities. We are also committed to strengthening the local health system so that the government can assume complete responsibility for providing eye health services to its citizens.

Sightsavers’ supporters continue to play a vital role in ensuring we can continue our work to change lives in this part of Africa. People we have helped often ask me to convey their appreciation and I am delighted to be able to do that here.


Sightsavers logoMercia Cumaio is the programme manager for the Nampula eye care programme in Mozambique, and has worked at Sightsavers for more than a decade.
Read Mercia’s story


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