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Sightsavers from the field

Seeing clearly: five sight-saving stories in Benin

The Accelerate programme, supported by Sightsavers, aims to stop people going blind from trachoma. In Benin, five patients reveal how the programme has changed their lives.

September 2021
Safia has her eyes examined by a health worker to check for signs of trachoma.

Visual impairment affects more than 2 billion people worldwide. In tackling this global eye health crisis and protecting sight, everyone counts and everyone has a part to play.

Accelerate is an ambitious Sightsavers-supported programme to eliminate trachoma, a painful and debilitating eye infection that can lead to blindness. The initiative shows how collaboration between programme staff, programme participants, donors and national ministries of health can help address huge public health issues and eliminate painful, avoidable diseases.

Accelerate is having a huge impact in Benin, where trachoma is endemic and many people are at risk of blindness.

Here you can meet people whose lives have been transformed after treatment for trachoma, and see how our programme staff are making a difference.

Aluna from Tanzania has her eyes checked for trachoma. They are visibly red and swollen.

What is trachoma?

Trachoma starts off as a bacterial infection that can be easily treated. But if it's not, it can cause pain and, eventually, blindness.

More about trachoma
Sonbobia sits on a chair in a colourfully decorated room.

Sonbobia: the village chief who’s leading the way

Sonbobia sits on a chair in a colourfully decorated room.

Sonbobia is chief of his village in Borgou department, one of Benin’s 12 regions. In 2019, he was one of the first people in the country to have surgery to treat advanced trachoma, known as trichiasis.

He is now a keen advocate of eye treatment, and dispels myths in his community about trichiasis surgery to encourage others to get help.

“There are people who fear the aftermath, after surgery,” he says. “They’re scared that the surgical procedure may complicate their current condition. I tell them that in their cases, the surgery won’t affect their eyes, but rather the skin that covers each eye. In this case, there is no fear to feel.”

Sonbobia stands outside his home with his horse. He holds up his thumb and smiles at the camera.
An older woman sits outside surrounded by her family.

Safia: a grandmother who rediscovered her work

An older woman sits outside surrounded by her family.

Eyelid surgery has helped Safia regain her independence. After developing trachoma, she had been relying on her granddaughter, Moussaya, to help her with her work making mustard and shea butter as she could no longer do it alone.

“It started with a tingling sensation, as if I had twigs in my eyes,” she says. “It was also itchy, especially on sunny days.”

After visiting the hospital in Boko, Safia was referred for surgery to save her sight. “Now that I’m fine,” she says, “I’ll resume these activities as I used to do before. It’s a joy.”

A man wearing a face mask has his temperature taken by a health worker.

Fousseni: a talented upholster who can now work again

A man wearing a face mask has his temperature taken by a health worker.

After having eyelid surgery, Fousseni has been able to return to his detailed work making shoes and sewing motorcycle seats and mattresses.

“I could still see before the surgery, but it was difficult,” he says. His eyelashes used to rub against his eyes, causing a stinging pain, so he used to cut them every morning using a razor blade.

“Since my return from surgery, I’ve been fine. I don’t feel the need to cut my eyelashes any more. After the surgery, I feel good. My eyes are lighter now, and I can see clearly.”

A man sitting in front of a sewing machine smiles at the camera.
Sina sits inside a building.

Sina: a chief who can continue his role in the community

Sina sits inside a building.

Village chief Sina is 105 years old. Years ago, when he was working as a farmer, he began to have issues with his vision. “I started to feel like I had grains of sand in my eyes,” he says. “This made me realise that there was a serious problem.

“I haven’t quite gone blind… but with age, it’s become worse. If the eyes are working well, you can go anywhere you want. If you can’t see any more, as you walk you will fall into holes that you can easily avoid when you see.”

Describing the moment when he learned he could be treated for trachoma, Sina says: “It was joy. When you are sick and you are offered treatment, it can only be joy. I’ll be happier after surgery. I’ll be able to visit my people in the village.”

Sina wears a mask while an eye health worker shines a torch into his eyes to check for trachoma.
Adou smiles outside his home.

Adou: a farmer who can care for his animals again

Adou smiles outside his home.

Farming is what Adou knows best. “I used to farm a lot,” he says. “Look at my hands: see how they are.” He started to notice problems with his vision and a tingling in his eyes, and it got gradually worse until he could no longer carry out his usual duties without help from his children.

Before receiving eyelid surgery, he was wary of the outcome. But now, he says: “I feel much better. There is no pain, no tingling. If you hadn’t said ‘wait three days before working’ I’d be in the field right now. The fear is gone.”

Adou stands in a lush green field with two cows.

Read about our work to eliminate blinding trachoma

How we’re fighting trachoma
Women waiting in a queue to get their eyes checked.
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