Blinding trachoma is a neglected tropical disease that is a major problem in Nigeria. The country has the highest population of all African countries: poverty is widespread and many people live in remote villages, meaning it is often difficult to provide treatment.
Sightsavers works with partners to identify and treat cases in these very remote locations. In one northern Nigerian village, where most people earn or produce just enough for a basic living, community volunteers noticed a young boy called Muzi.
Muzi, at seven years old, was struggling to see objects directly in front of him. His poor sight meant he was missing out on his education: each time he went to school with his brother and sisters, teachers would send him home again. His sight was so bad, they said they didn’t know how to teach him.
Muzi’s condition also meant he was in a lot of pain, as the trachoma was causing his lashes to turn inwards and scratch at his eyes. It also meant that his father, Muhamadu, couldn’t go to work because he worried about Muzi and needed to look after him. He was also concerned about Muzi’s future: if he went completely blind then he would never be independent. “Whenever I look at other children, healthy and playing outside, while my child can’t join them, it worries me a lot,” Muhamadu said.
When he was told that Sightsavers could provide sight-saving trachoma surgery for Muzi, Muhamadu was overjoyed.
Thanks to UK aid funding, Sightsavers has led Commonwealth Fund work to progress towards trachoma elimination in 10 countries, including Nigeria.Find out more
After the surgery, Muzi quickly gained back his confidence: “My eyes feel well now, I don’t feel the problem anymore. I can see everybody, I can see the table, and the phone there. When I get home I’m going to play. I feel alright now, I can see my father properly.”
He went back to school free of pain, and teachers commented on a dramatic change in his behaviour and improved understanding of their lessons. Muhamadu was able to go back to work to provide for the family, and he is optimistic about his son’s future: “I think his future is going to be bright, he is going to grow up to be a very wonderful child.”
Muzi is now one of many people in Nigeria who have got their sight back through life-changing trachoma surgery, thanks to UK aid’s Commonwealth Fund.
Over the past two years, the work Sightsavers and partners have delivered through the Commonwealth Fund has helped progress towards eliminating trachoma as a public health problem. And the progress being made is significant. In fact, as part of the broader effort, in one year alone, the number of people at risk of trachoma in Nigeria reduced by almost 50 per cent, from 20 million in 2018 to 11 million in 2019. However, with millions still suffering from this disease, continued effort is still essential to support those who need it most.
Since 2012, Sightsavers has been using smartphones to collect high-quality data, so that countries can effectively map the disease and focus their elimination efforts.
Dr Moira Chinthambi received a Sightsavers scholarship to train as an ophthalmologist and now works on our inclusive eye health programme in Malawi.
Alinafe Zaina is studying clinical ophthalmology in Malawi with the help of a scholarship provided by Sightsavers’ inclusive eye health programme.