But what if I’d written that first sentence from parts of Malawi, Nigeria, Kenya or Bangladesh – or indeed any other developing country? It would probably have read differently. Only a little differently. With just one word missing: “nearly”. One word, a world of difference.
Millions of people living in parts of the world with poor access to quality health services lose their sight because of conditions far easier to treat than acute glaucoma. Cataracts are the leading cause of avoidable blindness, responsible for over 50 per cent of the more than 31 million people who are blind from avoidable conditions. Sightsavers, working within existing health systems, supported more than 200,000 cataract operations last year. That’s 200,000 people who would otherwise have gone blind.
But many times this number of people will go blind this year, next year and in the years to come. Not because they don’t look after their eyes, or because they don’t value their sight, or because of anything they’ve done. But because there is no eye health service available, they can’t afford the transport costs or medical fees involved, or they simply aren’t aware that their condition can be treated.
This is why Sightsavers focuses on building the evidence base of what works in developing sustainable eye health services, accessible to all, affordable by all. Only by building health systems can we ensure that everyone has access to this basic health need, irrespective of where they are born.
When I was first able to talk to my mother after her surgery, she said, fighting back the tears: “I just couldn’t stop thinking about not seeing my children and grandchildren again.” For so many people, that painful thought becomes a reality. A reality that in many cases can be easily avoided.
By Dominic Haslam, Director of Policy and Programme Strategy at Sightsavers