There is an extreme health workforce shortage in Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa. Shortage of eye care workers impedes effective implementation of prevention of blindness programs. The World Health Organization has identified education, partnership, leadership, financing, and policy as intertwined interventions that are critical to resolving this crisis on the long term.
The VISION 2020 LINK between the College of Ophthalmology of Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists in the United Kingdom aims to increase the quantity and quality of eye care training in East, Central, and Southern Africa through a focus on five strategic areas: fellowship examination for ophthalmologists, training the trainers, curriculum development for residents in ophthalmology and ophthalmic clinical officers, continuous professional development (CPD), and mentoring program for young ophthalmologists. This study examined how education and partnership can be linked to improve eye care, through an evaluation of this north-south link based on its own targets and established frameworks to guide north-south links.
An exploratory qualitative case study design was used. Twenty-nine link representatives were recruited through purposive sampling and snowballing. Face-to-face interviews were conducted using a semi-structured interview schedule that incorporated the components of a successful link from an existing framework. Documents pertaining to the link were also examined. Thematic analysis was used for data analysis.
The findings revealed that the perception to the contribution of the link to eye care in the region is generally positive. Process indicators showed that the targets in three strategic objectives of the link have been achieved. Framework-based evaluation also showed that the link is successful. Mutual learning and development of friendships were the most commonly identified success factors. Inadequate awareness of the link by college members is a key challenge.
The study concludes that the link is active and evolving and has achieved most of its targets. Further developments should be directed to influence health system strengthening in Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa more strategically. The study recommends expansion of the scope of collaboration to involve multiple health system building blocks.