This month Zambia becomes the second country on the continent to benefit from the use of documentary film to improve eye health. International non-profit organisation Orbis Africa launched Africa’s first documentary film on eye health in South Africa on World Sight Day in October 2014 as its latest innovative tool to reduce preventable and treatable blindness and visual impairment in Africa.
The major blinding diseases in Zambia are cataract (50%), cornea scarring (15%), glaucoma (15%), and diabetic retinopathy (8%). Childhood blindness is estimated to constitute 3% of all blindness, but the total burden of blindness due to childhood blindness is second only to that of cataract blindness due the large number of blind years children have to live with blindness.
A recent research study by acclaimed South African anthropologist Dr Susan Levine was the catalyst for Orbis Africa’s decision to harness the power of film to drive its prevention and treatment models for avoidable childhood blindness on the African continent. Levine’s study, the first of its kind in Africa, revealed a series of barriers and obstacles that are preventing children from accessing vital medical intervention which could prevent childhood blindness.
“Overcoming these barriers required innovative communication methods hence Orbis Africa’s decision to harness the power of film,” explains Lene Øverland Orbis Africa CEO. “Facilitated Film Screenings have proven to be an effective communications tool for achieving social change.”
Orbis Africa partnered with STEPS (Social Transformation and Empowerment Projects) who pioneered the facilitated film screening methodology. STEPS, a special collaboration between filmmakers from Southern Africa and European broadcasters, produced the pilot documentary, Ngiyakubona (I See You) for the KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa. The film is being used to initiate social change and pioneer awareness of eye disease through reflections on the experiences of two children who suffered from congenital bilateral cataracts.
Orbis Africa in collaboration with STEPS will develop two unique documentaries for Zambia to be used as tools to facilitate health discussions amongst communities. The film to be produced for Copperbelt province will have a child focus whereas the film for North-Western province will focus on adults. Film facilitators will be trained from each province and be equipped to utilise the films to educate and engage community members on eye health issues so that they take ownership of their eye health.
Each film will be approximately 15 minutes long with the audio soundtrack in the original local dialect with English subtitling. The films will address a number of key issues including the barriers and obstacles delaying the presentation, treatment and follow up of serious eye conditions including socio-economic factors, a lack of medical knowledge, cultural and belief systems, traditions and ordinary fears.
The STEPS facilitated screening model combines film with facilitation as a powerful tool to promote debate and discussion and bring about enlightened social change. STEPS film screenings are always contextualised with personal testimonies and are followed by a discussion where facilitators encourage the audience to decide on individual and group action as a way forward. Actions can include challenging stigma and discrimination, the decision to seek services or to advocate for access to high quality equitable eye health services.
Filming for the two Zambian documentaries will commence in Kitwe on Tuesday 17 March 2015 and the production crew will then move onto Mwinilunga as the location for the second film.
Orbis Africa currently manages two primary initiatives in Zambia. From 2011 Orbis Africa has been supporting the establishment of a Child Eye Health Tertiary Facility in Kitwe, Copperbelt province and in 2013 Orbis Africa began investing in comprehensive eye health services in North-Western Province through a grant from Seeing is Believing (funded by Standard Charted Bank). The project is entitled Saving Sight, Changing Lives: Reducing avoidable blindness by strengthening comprehensive eye care services in the North-Western Province of Zambia.