Many local people have been suffering from trachoma, a painful eye disease that can rob them of their sight. Easily transmitted from person to person, through contact with contaminated clothing and by flies, trachoma thrives in areas with poor sanitation.
Trachoma can be easily treated with antibiotics. But the challenge is reaching the people who need treatment, particularly if they live in remote areas such as Nasir. If they’re not treated in time, they risk losing their sight for good.
Conditions in Nasir can be tough. Water and power shortages are common, and the rainy season often makes roads impassable: heavy rains combine with sticky, clay soil to churn up the terrain. The majority of people who live in the area move from lower to higher grounds throughout the year to avoid the worst of the wet season.
Access to healthcare is also extremely limited, so many people rely on surgical outreach teams if they need treatment. Eye health workers supported by Sightsavers have made visits to the region: during a 10-day trip , the team often perform more than 200 operations to treat cataracts and advanced trachoma (known as trichiasis), despite having no electricity or running water.
People travel from across the country, some for days at a time, to meet the team so they can receive a diagnosis and, if needed, a referral for sight-saving surgery.
During one outreach camp we met Chuol, a boat maker and farmer who was losing his sight to advanced trachoma. “I’ve had problems with my eyes since childhood,” he told us. “I used to go to school, but had to leave because my eyes often hurt too much to open. I’ve had trouble seeing over the past five years or so; now I can’t even write my own name.
“I’ve been supported by members of my family – they are all responsible for taking care of me because I can’t do it alone. My brother told me about this clinic in Nasir and I decided to come. I am not afraid of the surgery – I just want to get my eyesight back.”
Eye surgeon Chelso Thubo Paul, who has carried out a lot of the outreach work, must tackle some challenging conditions: his surgery is often performed using only the light of the window. Yet it doesn’t deter him.
“I enjoy the result of my work – there are many good stories,” he told us. “Many people whom I have operated on become friends.
“Any patient that I have operated on, man or woman, I greet them as friends and they are very thankful for me.”