For two years, 20-year-old Shamima had been finding it increasingly difficult to see. But visiting a doctor wasn’t an option due to the cost involved, which her family could not afford.
Shamima is shy with visitors and is limited in her ability to communicate with people outside her immediate family, so she speaks through her family members who include her in the conversation using an improvised form of sign language, gestures, facial expressions and reassuring touches.
Ramiza, Shamima’s mother, explains that Shamima’s daughter Toha, now 18 months old, learned this shared family language quickly. “For the first four months Shamima’s child was raised by me and her younger sister,” says Ramiza. “But when the child learned how to respond, how to react to touch, then Shamima became able to look after her.”
Shamima’s older sister Munina, explains how Sightsavers’ Right to Health project in Bangladesh helped Shamima access the eye care she needed.
Munina heard about one of the project’s eye camps through a local activity called ‘miking’. This involves information being relayed over a microphone on top of a vehicle as it passes through rural communities situated far from hospitals or medical centres. Miking plays an important role in reaching people in need of health services who otherwise wouldn’t know there’s support available.
The Right to Health project, funded by the UK government through UK Aid Match, is designed to reach people from marginalised groups; including women and people with disabilities, as they are often missed when regular eye camps are held. The project offered Shamima the chance to be seen at an eye camp near her home, without charge. After having her eyes examined, Shamima was diagnosed with a cataract in one eye, and referred for an operation.
“Without miking, I would not have had any indication of where I should go with Shamima,” says Munina. “I didn’t think about taking her to hospital [before then]. I knew that there was a hospital, but I didn’t know that this sort of surgery could be conducted there.
“Our mother was very afraid of the surgery, and discouraged me from taking Shamima to the hospital,” Munina continues. “She said, ‘At least Shamima can see with one of her eyes.’ She was very afraid that Shamima might lose vision in both of her eyes after the surgery.”
Because Munina had heard the announcements directly from the miking activity, she was assured Shamima would be alright, and was able to calm her mother’s nerves.
The family were also concerned because usually, no one is allowed to accompany patients in the hospital. But when they got there, they were further reassured by the hospital staff, who had been advised to give particular attention and support to people with disabilities and their families.