So volunteers from local communities travel around the country looking for people with trachoma, then report back once possible cases are found. The outreach team can then take antibiotics to areas where they are needed the most.
During my visit to Zambia, I accompanied a Sightsavers outreach team during their trip to a small, remote settlement called Lui River. After an hour-long drive from Senanga, our drivers veered off to follow a barely visible sandy track: we followed it for 30km through the bush and across the edges of the Zambezi flood plain.
Sadly, Kapalu’s eye problems had stopped him getting an education: he had been enrolled in school and attended grade one, but the pain in his eyes forced him to drop out two years ago. Since then, his eyes – and the pain – had got worse.
Kapalu’s grandfather, Likwathi, said he hadn’t known why his grandson’s eyes were sore – he had never heard of trachoma. He said he’d taken Kapalu to the local health centre a few years ago, but the centre was basic, staffed by two nurses, and they didn’t have the specialist knowledge needed to treat him.
Senanga District Hospital was about a three-hour drive away, meaning it was too far to walk. If it wasn’t for Sightsavers’ outreach programme, there would be no eye care at all in this region.
Likwathi had been worried about Kapalu’s eyesight for some time. He desperately wanted him to be in good health so he could help out at home, fetching water and firewood – Likwathi was getting older, so wanted to be able to rely on his grandson to help the family.
But Kapalu’s eyes were often itchy and tearful, and when they were particularly bad he couldn’t even get out of bed. This put his family in a difficult situation: rather than being able to collect food or earn a living, they had to stay home and look after him.
Likwathi spoke of the change in Kapalu, which had started to affect his whole personality. “There is a change in his lifestyle, in his behaviour,” he explained. “Before, he was a very active young man, but his eye problems have stopped him doing that. He can’t have fun with his friends or play with other children. So most of the time he’s at home. He can’t be active like the other children.”