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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”