Many roads lead to Kikuyu. The word has spread among the visually afflicted of Kenya, and no small number have heard at some point of the eye clinic near Nairobi – and even found their way there by themselves to receive excellent treatment and be cured (as already described). But there are still also an enormous number of people who have difficulty seeing or are completely blind in Kenya who have never even heard of the Kikuyu Eye Unit.
They do not know that they can be cured, that they can regain their eyesight with simple surgery. In East Africa much is still purely organised on a tribal and village community level. There is little or no transport at all in these regions, and most information is passed on by word-of-mouth. The proportion of blind people and people with severe eye conditions is extremely high in distant rural communities. In order to reach these people too, and to help them, the Kikuyu Eye Unit has developed what they call the Outreach Programme.
‘Outreach’ means something like ‘reaching out’, expanding the sphere of influence. What is needed in these regions, which are untouched by modern mass-communications, is first of all a functioning culture of communication. The people need be informed, they need to be ‘lured’ to a specific place on a specific day at a certain time for a general examination of their eyes. To do this the eye clinic also works closely with the Presbyterian Church of East Africa and other organisations with widespread contacts in the different regions. The tribal leaders contact them when they feel a general examination is necessary – which it usually is in many regions.
Once the location of the mission for the mobile eye-team has been organised (e.g. a schoolhouse in the country) a co-worker from the eye clinic makes an appointment with the local tribal leader and the other members of the community. As soon as the appointment is made, this information is spread as well as it can be. The key information-spreaders (basically the local chatterboxes) in the area are contacted and asked to spread the word so that as many people as possible hear about the arranged date and can show up. It would be too stupid if the examination team from the Kikuyu Eye Unit were to cover the large distances involved and nobody turned up, wouldn’t it? But this very rarely happens. Quite the opposite. On the examination day seven to eight nurses and assistants (the standard examination team) pack their belongings and travel the long distance by jeep. The chatterholics have done their job well, as expected, and the team is awaited by hundreds of people with eye trouble, many of whom have been underway for hours in order to reach the arranged meeting place. So you see, as soon as such an examination date is known the bush-telephone operates splendidly and the demand is enormous.
Then the preliminary examinations are held. The patient’s details are taken, tests are made and the diagnosis recorded. Priority is given to those people whose vision is most impaired and who need surgery as soon as possible. The rest of the patients whose conditions are still in the early stages, still curable, receive medication according to their needs, vitamin A capsules and ointments. With these they are already on the road to recovery and can go home again. It is vitally important to explain to the patients that this treatment is not gratis and that those who can afford to should also pay for it. But it is just as clear here that everyone is provided for just as at the stationary clinic, including those who have no means whatsoever.
The people who require surgery urgently are given an appointment, usually a week later. A specific meeting spot is arranged where they have to show up, and from where they are taken to the clinic by jeep. It is only seldom possible for a surgeon to join the mobile eye clinic as the doctors in the hospital are already overworked. This is how the patients who need surgery are brought to Kikuyu, operated on and taken home again. Every year thousands of people who would usually not have access to any eye treatment are provided with information by the Community Outreach Programme, examined and cured.