A lifelong teacher of religious education, Issa has been unable to read, or to teach, since his sight deteriorated seven years ago. In that time he was mistakenly diagnosed with cataracts and glaucoma, but it wasn’t until an outreach team visited his village as part of the Global Trachoma Mapping Project (GTMP) that he learned he had trichiasis – an advanced form of trachoma.
“After sunset I can’t see, though during the day I can see a bit when the sun is shining,” he explains. “When my eyelashes grow I can feel pain in my eyes, so I remove them immediately using tweezers when I feel them scratching. I can feel that my eyesight is getting worse.”
The mapping project, which ran for three years until January 2016, aimed to pinpoint the geographical areas where people are affected by trachoma, and in what numbers. This is an essential stage in the process to eliminate the disease by 2020. The project, which was co-ordinated by Sightsavers and largely funded by the UK government, saw more than 550 separate teams of mappers travel to some of the world’s most remote locations to establish the extent of the infection.
But the mapping project was more than an exercise in analysing trachoma’s reach. For many of the people they identified with the disease, including Issa and his family, this was the first they had heard of its existence. For them, the project had a life-changing result. Having been identified as suffering from trachoma, Issa was referred for free, sight-saving treatment.