Sightsavers Reports

Sayon is finally free from the pain of trachoma

December 2017
Sayon smiling, she is sitting outside in the shade.

Sayon Coulibaly lives in a remote village in south-western Mali that can only be reached via poor roads. She thinks she is about 75 years old, but cannot be sure.

Sayon has a cataract in her left eye, and before having surgery she also suffered with the relentless pain brought on by trachoma. The infection caused her eyelashes to turn inwards, so with every blink they scratched against her corneas.

Tweezers helped to ease the pain

Sayon’s village is peaceful: when we visit, 13 members of her family are sitting outside in the shade under a large mango tree, surrounded by the huts where they sleep. Although she is hard of hearing, Sayon constantly laughs and makes jokes.

When we ask how her life was when she had trachoma, she goes into her bedroom ­– a stiflingly hot room, containing only a single bed – to find a pair of tweezers. She explains how she used to rely on them to ease the scratching caused by trachoma, if only for a few days.

“I suffered for a long time, and my children would help me by using these [tweezers]. When my eyelashes touched my eyes, it was impossible for me to do anything, so we used this to remove them. It would feel better, but when the eyelashes would start touching my eyes again, it was even more painful.

“My eyes were getting worse: every three days the eyelashes would touch my eyes again and it would make me cry. If we didn’t remove them, I couldn’t do anything.”


Sayon stands in the doorway of her house. She is wearing a long blue dress and has a green scarf over her head.

Free treatment for trachoma in Mali

Sayon has had a long experience with trachoma: her mother suffered with the infection for many years and it was Sayon who would use tweezers to help relieve her mother’s pain, just as her children do for her now. “My mother had to put up with the pain because at that time there was no surgery,” she explains.

Fortunately for Sayon, Sightsavers is working with the Ministry of Health in Mali to find people with trachoma and offer free treatment. When a health worker visited Sayon, she was quickly referred for surgery. A surgical team travelled from Kati, a town about 50 minutes’ drive from Sayon’s village, to perform the operation.

An operation to relieve the pain

One of Sayon’s relatives, Alou Diarra, says: “When they brought the doctors here, at first she was reluctant to go for surgery. After seeing patients with bandages, she thought they had turned blind from the surgery. So many people suffer, but because of the project we are really relieved.”

Sayon still has a cataract in her left eye, which means her vision will never be perfect. But the trachoma operation has improved her life dramatically: she no longer has to endure the painful stopgap routine of plucking out her eyelashes, and her sight has improved immensely.

“Being older, you suffer from many illnesses that are brought about by old age,” Sayon explains. “But now I can see with my right eye.”

Sayon sits on her bed, looking at the camera with a big smile.

“There are places I can go now that I couldn’t before.”

Sayon sits on her bed, looking at the camera with a big smile.

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