Suddenly the situation changed quite quickly – almost overnight. The fighting began when the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement rebel groups took up arms against the government of Sudan. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to abandon their farms, homes, livestock and property. Livelihoods have been lost and the way of life that existed for generations has been disrupted.
As displaced people moved across the country or made their way to the camps set up by humanitarian organisations, delivering assistance to affected communities via humanitarian aid, basic social welfare services and healthcare became increasingly challenging.
After years of not receiving adequate healthcare, many people were affected with trachoma, an infectious eye disease. As a programme officer for Sightsavers Sudan, I knew the numbers were suspected to be high and the area to be endemic. But to tackle the problem we needed to know where those affected people lived.
Three years ago, as part of the Global Trachoma Mapping Project run by the UK government’s Department for International Development, funding was provided to the Sightsavers country office in Sudan to map trachoma in the five states that make up Darfur.
Being able to map trachoma meant that last year, when the security situation began to improve and people were able to access remote villages once again, Sightsavers was able to roll out the region’s first mass drug administration campaign, in partnership with the Ministry of Health and with funding from the END Fund. The aim was to treat blinding trachoma in Central, West and North Darfur states – a region as big as France.
The first phase was finding community drug distribution volunteers to distribute the drugs. Recruiting people wasn’t too hard: after years of not having proper healthcare, people were keen to receive training and be part of a team of 3,366 volunteers helping to eliminate this neglected tropical disease in their communities.
In less than a year, more than 1.3 million people have already been given Zithromax® medication to treat and prevent trachoma. By the end of May we expect this number to rise to almost 2 million people.
Asha Ahmed lives in the Abu Zereiga village in Dar El Salam locality in north Darfur. Despite the conflict and deteriorating economic circumstances, she decided to stay in the village where she was born, along with her husband and two daughters, Samira and Rawda.
The family were given Zithromax® to prevent trachoma. Although they don’t currently have the disease, Asha told us she was aware of it and shared the story of her neighbour, Hawa, for whom help from the volunteer drug distributor had come too late.
“Hawa has a daughter who is only nine years old, called Nora. She got an eye infection followed by changes in her eyes. People told her it was conjunctivitis. Hawa started traditional medicine to treat Nora,” explains Asha.
“Later, Nora gradually started losing her sight. Her mother thought she would be fine if she continued using traditional medicines. But Nora’s suffering never ended and her sight deteriorated. Sadly Nora lost her vision totally. After a long period, Nora was referred to the hospital, where she was told that she had trachoma.
“Nora’s case was enough of a lesson for us, and I realised that we must protect ourselves from trachoma. This is why myself and my daughters are very keen to take the medicine and encourage all our neighbours to do so.”
Asha says the treatment campaign is an opportunity for people in the village to learn more about trachoma, through education or awareness sessions shared by volunteers or through the local radio. “We have learned about the importance of face cleaning, environmental sanitation and other useful hygiene tips from these sessions.”