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Sightsavers Reports

The challenges of protecting your community

Mariam gives a cheeky smile to the camera.

Mariam is 34 years old, and works to protect as many people as she can from the threat of river blindness in her community.

She lives in Karfiguela village in Burkina Faso. For the past five years she has worked as a commuunity volunteer distributing medication in her local area, a job she says she loves.

“What really makes me happy in this work is that it is helping to prevent people from catching the disease,” she explains.

“I meet lots of people in the village, which makes me happy.”

Mariam gets the correct amount of treatment for a lady in her village, who has just been measured.

After being trained by Sightsavers staff, Mariam has the knowledge and the ability to protect her fellow villagers from river blindness.

This devastating disease can cause itching that’s so intense, people often scratch their skin so hard it leaves scars. If left untreated, river blindness can eventually lead to irreversible sight loss.

“We meet family members and tell them the reason why they have to take these drugs,” Mariam explains. “Then we measure them against a dose pole, and according to the colour they match, we give them the medicine.”

The dose pole

Learn how this vital tool helps us to distribute the medication that can save sight.

Read about dose poles
Mariam measures a lady in her village against a dose pole.

Why Mariam is compelled to work as a distributor

In many rural areas, such as Mariam’s village, contracting a disease like river blindness doesn’t just affect the patient – it can affect their whole family. Without treatment, and without health workers such as Mariam to distribute the medication, children can be forced to drop out of school to support their blind parents, meaning they miss out on an education. What’s worse is they can still be at risk of catching river blindness themselves.

“Eyesight is important because if you don’t have sight, this really will disturb your work in many ways,” Mariam tells us. “This is a serious problem that you can face.”

Mariam consults with her chief nurse.

Sometimes Mariam’s job can be difficult

In remote villages, people are often unaware of what they can do to protect their sight. Thankfully, Mariam’s training has prepared her for that.

“The main challenge we have is that some people refuse to take the drugs. This can be really challenging – how do we bring people to accept this medicine? What we do is we sensitise them. We explain the reasons why it’s good for them to take the medicine. And if this doesn’t work, we go and see our chief nurse and they will come and do it in our place.”

Mariam stands, smiling, with her dose pole.

“My role is important because it helps people to be healthy, and it allows us, as distributors, to be healthy. So we are working for the whole population.”

Mariam stands, smiling, with her dose pole.

Learn more about our work to save sight

Sightsavers and eye health

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