Birth ensures the grace of sight to most of us, but not everyone enjoys this privilege. The warm colour of dawn that rises and illuminates the landscape, the shimmer of the water in contact with the sun rays, its own reflection, the nuances of the loved ones’ faces. How many have experienced these emotions thanks to the eyes? And how many instead, were allowed just to imagine these sensations through the stories of others?
It is normal that the sight weakens as we age, but it is not as obvious not being able to prevent this worsening and tackle it. In January 2020 Christian Blind Mission (CBM) in collaboration with Doctors with Africa CUAMM and with the support of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS), launched the “ForeSeeing Inclusion” project dedicated to the healthcare of sight in the north of Uganda. The intervention, lasting three years, includes the involvement of over 76,521 beneficiaries and aims to contribute to the reduction of avoidable blindness by 2021, in particular in three districts: Arua, Kitgum and Lamwo.
According to the latest national census (2014), 32% of all individuals with visual impairments in Uganda are concentrated in the north of the country and 75% of these suffer from a blindness that could be avoidable, with proper knowledge and tools,. Among the most frequent problems, there is trachoma, a bacterial infection of the conjunctiva and cornea of the eye, transmissible by contact but easily treatable if identified promptly.
Andresiru Joyce, 41, is affected by it but was born in the “wrong” part of the world. For years she had been suffering from pain, itching and a very strong tearing that almost prevented her from opening her eyes, when she finally heard of this project. She arrived at the Omugo clinic from the village of Arawutuku, wearing a hat to protect herself from the light but above all to hide the shame for her condition from anyone around her. She could not see distant objects or turn her head freely to see things around her. She was given antibiotics for a week to be able to perform surgery. The operation at the Arua hospital was a success and after a few days she was discharged: «I am very grateful for the support these organizations give to the hospital. They saved my sight. I no longer feel any pain, no irritation, no tears and I am able to see clearly without any difficulty thanks to the operation ». Joyce said happily during the routine check-up at her home by the CUAMM team.
Buziru Felister, 54, also had a similar story with a successful ending. Breadwinner and mother of four children in the village of Ariaabo, she is one of the patients who benefited from the support of CBM and Doctors with Africa CUAMM. For two weeks Felister spent sleepless nights due to headaches and terrible pain in his left eye. On June 27, she arrived at the Omugocon health center with an eye bandage made of non-sterilized fabric, which took almost all of her head. She could not see absolutely anything from her left eye, due to a scar on her cornea that had turned black over time. In her condition, the only chance was the removal of the eye but, in order not to feel that pain again, Felister was ready to face the reality and she was looking forward to proceeding with the surgery. Just the imagination of a life without that suffering made her happy and relieved. After the operation and a few days under observation, Felister improved a lot and she was discharged.
«I have no more headaches and pain, I can sleep well, I can hoe and do other housework. I would like to thank the whole team, in particular the ophthalmologists of the facility for saving me, supporting me during the free surgery and with continuous checks – said Felister – I hope they can continue to support other vulnerable people like me, people that couldn’t live normally without this intervention but only enduring pain or even losing their sight completely».
The ophthalmologists of the facility are happy together with the patients, as emerges from the words of Lotomya Juliet, operator of the ophthalmic clinic: «I treasure everyday experiences. This project developed my skills in eye healthcare and made me even more aware of how essential sight is. It is beautiful and very rewarding to be the reason for a beautiful smile on patients’ faces when they regain sight – continues Juliet -. Many people came to the HC with complicated situations that caused them so much pain, the condition of some of them is so serious that they do not have a long life expectancy. But the patients here feel cared for and when they go out, more relieved. They ask me how long I will stay in the centre of Omugo and when I answer “for three years”, they are happy».
Many patients, as they age, have presbyopia – a condition that does not allow them to see clearly up close – and thanks to the correction of the eyes’ gradation, they are surprised how their vision improves and they can see well again.
«The scene is very funny – Juliet continues – They cry out for joy, they feel younger and see life more clearly. These experiences make me reflect on how tremendous blindness can be once one has enjoyed the extraordinary beauty of nature. All this gives me the inspiration and motivation to continue studying and developing my skills, so that I can continue to have an impact on the lives of people in my community by offering adequate eye care”.
Tha vital power of the patients, the passion of health personnel, and a targeted intervention: these are the ingredients so that more and more people may open their eyes to the world.