Sightsavers Reports

Cataract surgery restored Asha’s sight and gave her confidence

Asha Abubakar outside her home in Tanzania following her successful cataract operation.

Six-year-old Asha Mussa Abubakar is from Mozambique and was born with cataracts in both eyes.

She has never been able to see anything with her right eye, and had only some peripheral vision in her left. Her mother struggled to care for her, so Asha was sent to live with her grandmother. Yet her cataracts made her self-conscious and painfully shy, and she was ostracised and often bullied by other children in the village.

Eventually, a friend of the family, Humoud Mohammed, brought Asha to Zanzibar to live with his family, who are all very fond of her. Despite her visual impairments she helps around the house, sweeping and making the beds.

Eye care in Tanzania

Asha was brought to Zanzibar in Tanzania in the hope that she could receive treatment for her cataracts, as the facilities are more advanced than in her home country of Mozambique.

Yet even in Zanzibar there are no paediatric ophthalmologists, and there is an extreme shortage of other eye care professionals, leaving large rural areas without any help at all. Every three months, a team of eye care specialists travels over from Dar Es Salaam on the mainland. During a four-day visit, the specialists screen up to 200 children and perform 40 cataract operations.

When we first meet Asha, we notice she constantly covers her eyes with her hands. She suffers from photophobia, which makes it painful for her to look at bright lights.

Asha is taken for eye screening at the nearby military hospital.  As part of the screening, her eyes are tested and she’s asked to identify different objects, an activity she seems to enjoy – it’s good for her to see that lots of other children have the same problem as her.

She’s referred for surgery at the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital, but she says she isn’t nervous: she tells the other children she’s looking forward to her operation. “I’m going to have an operation and then I won’t be blind,” she says. “I’ll be treated, then I will be well!”

Asha’s dream has always been to regain her sight so she can go to school with the other children.

Asha's eyes are examined by a specialist, who shines a light into them to check for cataracts.

A cataract operation to change Asha’s life

On the day of Asha’s operation, she is forced to wait until late afternoon before she’s called for surgery: she’s fourth on the list of eight children. She hasn’t eaten anything since midnight the previous night, but while some of the other children start to get restless and upset, Asha doesn’t grumble. Instead she sits quietly on her bed or takes a nap, and seems calm.

She seems to be enjoying every aspect of the treatment because she knows it is leading to her having her vision restored. When the nurse comes through to administer the eye drops, all the other children cry, but Asha accepts them with a smile.

Yet when she’s finally taken into operating theatre, she shows the first signs of fear, crying: “I’m scared!” The nurses help to calm her as she’s given her anaesthetic.

A big welcome home

The day after surgery, we return to the hospital to visit Asha: it’s time to remove the large bandages covering her eyes.

She’s still tired and sleepy, and her eyes are sore and swollen. Dr Rajab Hilal checks her eyes with his torch, confirming that everything looks good. He says the surgery has gone well, the cataracts have been removed and Asha can how see. He advises her to rest for a few days and says she will be given a full vision test once her eyes have recovered.

Three days after her operation, Asha is allowed to go home. As she pulls up outside her house she jumps out of the car, happy to be back in familiar surroundings. Children from her neighbourhood arrive to welcome her, calling her name, and she’s soon playing with them, running, smiling and giggling – her shyness has completely disappeared.

Asha’s grandmother is amazed to find a different girl to the one she said goodbye to all those months ago. “Now she sees!” she exclaims. “She can look – she can see!”

Asha and her brother play with bubbles, smiling and laughing.

Asha’s vision is restored

The real transformation in Asha comes when someone starts blowing bubbles: she is wide-eyed and grinning as she hops and jumps around, trying to catch them. It’s amazing to see how she has come out of her shell.

When we say our goodbyes, for the first time since we arrived, Asha shields her eyes. We feel a moment of disappointment, but we’re told that it’s become a bit of a habit that we hope she will break over time. “Asha is a different girl from the one we first met,” Dr Rajab tells us. “Before, she was hiding. Now she’s  smiling. She is in the world again.”

Asha is lucky: there are still thousands of children living in developing countries who are losing their vision because of cataracts. A donation of £50 could pay for an operation to restore their sight and give them hope for the future.

Asha plays in a tree outside her home with another child from her village.

“Before, she was hiding. Now she’s smiling. She is in the world again.”

Asha plays in a tree outside her home with another child from her village.

Change someone’s life forever

I would like to make a donation

could enable 45 people to be screened for a range of eye conditions.

could pay for a child cataract operation to enable a child like Asha to see again.

could pay for five life-changing adult cataract operations.

We're sorry, but the minimum donation we can take is $3
We're sorry, but we cannot process a donation of this size online. Please contact us on [email protected] for assistance donating over $15,000

could enable 19 people to be screened for a range of different eye conditions.

could cover the cost of an adult cataract operation.

could pay for a child cataract operation to enable a child like Asha to see again.

We're sorry, but the minimum donation we can take is $3
We're sorry, but we cannot process a donation of this size online. Please contact us on [email protected] for assistance donating over $15,000

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