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A new vision for Sri Lanka

Fundraiser Sarah Muddle recently visited Sri Lanka, where Sightsavers has only worked since 1980, making it one of our newest countries.

At the start of my trip I left behind the heady heat and noise of Colombo to visit Kandy city, situated in the stunning hill country in the heart of Sri Lanka. As the road winds and climbs we pass waterfalls and glimpse hazy mountain peaks through lush, tropical rainforest. It takes three hours to reach our destination, the low vision clinic at the Department of Ophthalmology at Kandy Hospital. It’s 9am and the hospital is busy, patients clutching hospital records fill every corridor and waiting room, some bandaged and others are holding hankies to their eyes, waiting their turn to see hospital staff.

According to the World Health Organization, globally there are approximately 68 million people who have low vision (that cannot be rectified with glasses). Many people who have low vision are still able to use their remaining sight by using special devices. In partnership with the Ministry of Health, the Departments of Education and Social Services, and the College of Ophthalmologists, Sightsavers has launched a national programme to address low vision and refractive errors (vision problems that can be corrected with glasses). This project is developing a network of low vision clinics, offering services such as vision screening, prescription of glasses and referral where necessary.

According to the World Health Organization, globally there are approximately 68 million people who have low vision

At the newly opened Visual Skills Resource and Training Centre at the low vision clinic I met seven-year-old Dinithi (pictured below), who has lost her right eye and is waiting for a replacement artificial one. Her vision is very poor in her left eye. She is a lively little girl and is enjoying using the reading lamp and sentence guides on the reading stand. When she is older she will be given a telescope, which requires slightly more skill and coordination than she can currently manage. For now, the Ophthalmic Technologist Nirosha is advising Dinithi’s parents to buy a reading stand for their daughter.

I also met 14-year-old Zaithan (pictured below), who was learning how to use her new telescope. It will really help Zaithan in the classroom, allowing her to focus on the blackboard.

Watching these children use their optical devices made me realise just how important they are to visually impaired people, giving them independence and confidence and, crucially for children, the chance to attend regular schools and learn alongside their sighted friends.

Watching these children use their optical devices made me realise just how important they are to visually impaired people

We were invited to the home of Danuka Prabhath Perera (pictured below) who lives in the village of Ambattena, about 7.5km from Kandy Hospital, with his parents and younger sister. Twenty-year-old Danuka achieved brilliant school results, thanks to the low vision service he received from the hospital. When his school teachers realised that he was unable to see the blackboard, they recommended that he should have his vision tested. Danuka has a condition called macular degeneration in both eyes and wears glasses. He uses a magnifying glass at school, and at home has a telescope for watching TV. He also uses a whiteboard and reading lamp to help him with his studies. Danuka has just qualified to study for an English degree at the University of Peradeniyna in Kandy.

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