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Sightsavers Reports

After seven years of pain, Issa can see again

February 2017
Issa Dawood from Sudan.

Issa is 82 years old. But instead of enjoying his retirement, he has spent years seeking treatment for his trachoma so he can provide for his nine children, the youngest just three years old.

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.”

A close-up of Issa's hands as he clutches his spectacles and his prayer beads.

Hoping for a better life in Sudan

Issa and his family moved from Gedarif, the region of Sudan where trachoma is most endemic, to a village near Khartoum nine years ago, in the hope of employment opportunities and a better life for them all. His attempts to supplement his income by farming grain had failed, and he hoped that the move could turn the family’s fortunes around. Instead, as his sight has declined, they have struggled to make ends meet.

“The only way that we can survive at the moment is that I go to the mosque and beg, and hope that people give us money,” he explains. “This is not the same as working and being able to support my family myself.”

 

An eye health worker shines a torch into Issa's eyes to check for trachoma.

A life-changing trachoma diagnosis

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.

Issa sits in a darkened room looking out towards the sunshine.

Understanding the importance of sight

“I am very happy that the trachoma mapping is happening,” says Issa. “All of my children are the right age to go to school, and sight is very important for them to be able to continue their studies. At the moment none of them have eye problems, but I am always worried that something like this may happen to them or my wife.”

Between 2013 and 2016, 2.6 million people in 29 countries were screened for trachoma as part of the GTMP – with one person screened every 40 second on average during the length of the project.

Find out more about the Global Trachoma Mapping Project.

Issa stands outside his home accompanied by a member of his family, who holds his white cane for him.

“I do not want my children to suffer what I have suffered.”

Issa stands outside his home accompanied by a member of his family, who holds his white cane for him.

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