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End of an era as Dr Ndolezi takes her final bow

THE government has been making noise for so many years, telling young girls in schools to embrace science subjects. This call is due to the fact that women, for a long time, have been lagging behind in careers that demand for excellence in science subjects.

Years ago, one woman heeded the call and went beyond several challenges to emerge as one of the best opticians the country has ever had, with her duty demanding her to provide eye care services to her patients.

That woman was Dr Mary Ndolezi, who for so many years has been providing eye care services to mitigate visual impairment, which to her was an important dimension of delivering comprehensive primary health care.

In many African countries, there is a shortage of eye care personnel. A lack of standardized training, inadequate coordination among eye care stakeholders and for those in need of eye care, the cost of equipment and treatment can be an obstacle.

Challenges with data collection and measurement of the burden of visual impairment complicate efforts to generate support for effective health policy development.

Mvumi hospital In Tanzania, Mvumi Hospital has operated as a mission health care facility for more than 70 years, beginning as a clinic for missionary families.

Located 45 km from Dodoma, in a rural, densely populated area with few other facilities for healthcare, the facility is widely known as a go to place for eye problems.

For many years, it has been known as a pioneer, in many ways, of high end eye care services in the country, both in form of eye care diagnosis and surgeries.

And of late, it was not easy to talk about its eye care department without talking about Dr Ndolezi, who worked at the hospital for a decade before her retirement.

Prior to that, she had worked in a number of regional hospitals across the country.

Importance of eye care In the context of Tanzania, Dr Mary Ndolezi was very important for the health care system because eye disease in sub-Saharan Africa is now estimated to affect 18–25 percent of the population.

This includes blindness (0.61 percent of the population), moderate to severe visual impairment (3.6 percent to 4 percent) presbyopia (7 percent to 8 percent) and ‘all other ocular morbidities’, an overarching term that describes any significant eye condition which may or may not cause sight loss (8 percent–10 percent).

To deal with this total burden of eye disease, sub- Saharan Africa must establish comprehensive eye health services, available to all. This requires an eye health workforce capable of working as a team at community, primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

Without such a workforce, it will not be possible to meet the need for eye care in sub-Saharan Africa. Whereas some countries are approaching the World Health Organization's (WHO’S), minimum requirements for eye health workers, the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa remain under-resourced.

The fact is that an insufficient number of new eye health workers are being trained for the needs of a growing and ageing population. Without government commitment to establish and fund professional pathways for eye care workers, the crisis is set to worsen.

Dr Ndolezi was a phenomenal professional When Dr Ndolezi passed on last month, there were hundreds of narrations from her former patients who are gladly ‘visionary’ today and going about their day to day duties because of her service.

From across the country and beyond, her former patients recall an expert who made corrective interventions to save their eyes and they have never looked back. “Dr Mary Ndolezi, who has died aged 69, was a pioneer in the development of care for the visually impaired.

She recognized there was a need to combine expertise in clinical optics and understanding of the underlying eye disease together with a knowledge of the psychological impact of visual loss and an understanding of each individual's visual needs, ”said one of her former workmates at a regional hospital.

At her burial ceremony in Dodoma recently, mourners from across the country, hundreds of friends and workmates also spoke of how she split her professional time between the theatre and community services such as supporting her church activities.

Close friends speak One of the closest friends, Mrs Feliciana Temba, a teacher at Mvumi in Dodoma, spoke of how she supported a number of development activities of the choir at the Catholic Church in Mvumi.

According to her, Dr Mary Ndolezi was a noticeable participant in Mvumi Catholic church activities.” “She was also the patron of the St Monica church choir in Mvumi, was prayerful, forgiving and just, “she said.

She extolled Dr Ndolezi as a decent professional who embodied important family values. She was also remembered by family and friends this week as kind, compassionate and happy, having spent her life doing what she loved……that is caring for peoples’ eyes.

Three decades career In her 30-year career in eye care, she was always instrumental wherever she worked, in expansion efforts. Born in 12 August 1949 in Ujiji, Kigoma to Mzee Paul Sangu, she went to Kigoma Primary School from 1959 to 1962, after which between 1963 and 1965 she was in middle school in Ujiji school and completed the same in 1965.

From 1971 to 1974, the young Ndolezi did medical assistance training at Tanga Medical Assistant Training Centre in Tanga Region. From 1978 to 1979, she received training as assistant medical officer at KCMC, Moshi.

From 1984 to 1985, she received training as an assistant medical officer in ophthalmology at KCMC. She also did short trainings like cataract training at Dr Joseph eye hospital in South India in 1988.

Between 1978 and 1980, Dr Ndoleji worked at the Mbeya Regional Hospital, and from 1982 to 1988.

She worked in Bugando Hospital in Mwanza, and in 1988 to 1989, she worked at the Dodoma Regional Hospital, before working at the Sumbawanga Regional Hospital between 1989 to 1998.

However, in 2000 she moved to Mvumi Mission Hospital where she worked until she retired in 2009. Not to waste her expertise, she then worked at Amana hospital in Dodoma.

Dr Ndolezi was married in 1982, and is survived by her 2 children, Norda Ndolezi and Rayner Ndolezi.

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Author: ANTHONY TAMBWE

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