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Sightsavers Reports

An everyday hero who’s saving sight in Uganda

Meet Gladys Atto, one of the talented cataract surgeons whose training you’ve supported

February 2019
Gladys Atoo in her Doctor's uniform, smiles at the camera

Gladys Atto works at Moroto hospital in Uganda, which serves a population of around 103,000. Shockingly she’s the first and currently only cataract surgeon and ophthalmologist working there.

She helps to perform about 18 operations a week, and her favourite moment is when the patient’s bandages are removed and they can see again. “I can’t forget the day an elderly woman screamed in excitement, and hugged me so tightly, saying, ‘I can see your face! You have painted your lips red and it’s very beautiful.’

“Sight is the most important sense,” says Gladys. “Trust me, if you wake up and you can’t see, your life will be completely changed.”

Gladys in surgery, operating on a cataract patient.

She may be at the start of her career as a cataract surgeon, but Gladys is passionate about helping to improve eye care in Uganda. In the region where she works there’s still limited awareness about eye conditions and treatments, and people are very wary about seeking help.

They may be happy to take eye drops, but they don’t want surgery. Yet this is an area where going blind is likely to have a very negative impact on a person’s quality of life.

“Life here is really hard, even for those who can see,” says Gladys. “And because food is scarce here the women work harder. They’re the ones in charge of building the home and taking care of their husbands and families, so a woman who can’t see will be far more disadvantaged than a man.”

She remembers one woman in particular whose sight she restored. “I once operated on a 60-year-old woman who had become the breadwinner for her family after her husband passed away, leaving her with 10 children. Her sole source of livelihood came from farming, which she couldn’t do any more because of poor vision. She felt devastated because she couldn’t provide for her children. She had the zeal to work but couldn’t.

“I imagined my own mother being blind and I realised that my life could have been so different. I’m humbled that I was able to restore her dream of being a good mother, a providing mother. Now, she’s back to farming.”

Despite the challenges, Gladys is fully committed to her chosen career and extremely grateful for the support you’ve given her.

“Since childhood I’ve known that I needed to be a doctor. I like to see people get better, and even when I’m not working I’m looking into people’s eyes, wondering if they have a problem. Thank you so much for sponsoring me, and for giving me the chance to do my best.”

A woman has her eyes examined as part of a CATCH screening programme in Uganda.

Coordinating community health care

The Coordinated Approach to Community Health programme helps to train cataract surgeons such as Gladys in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda and Zambia.

About the programme
Gladys with Loumo Mariam, one of her cataract patients.

“When the patient sees, it’s so beautiful. It’s the most rewarding feeling one can ever get.”

Gladys with Loumo Mariam, one of her cataract patients.

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