Sightsavers stories

Saving Paolo's sight

A smiling boy stands in a doorway.

Paolo is a happy four-year-old boy from the Maasai community in rural Arusha, Tanzania. But his family could not understand why he kept having problems with his eyes.

They were shocked to find out that it was trachoma: an eye infection that if left untreated, causes intense pain and discomfort, eventually leading to blindness. The disease thrives in areas where water is scarce and sanitation is poor – leaving children like four-year-old Paolo especially vulnerable to infection.

Paolo lives with his family in Arusha, where he loves to run in the dry grass and play with his friends. But the problems in his eyes have been stopping him from playing recently, and if his condition isn’t treated it could stop him from getting an education. Eventually trachoma could even stop him from being able to work and provide for his family.

A man in scrubs standing outside.

Tropical Data initiative

This large-scale project uses smartphones to gather data for targeting trachoma treatment as part of the global fight towards elimination.

Learn about the project

“When somebody is suffering from trachoma, you can’t do anything,” says his mother, Rose. “Because the eyes… show you where to go.”

Luckily for Paolo, it was caught in time. He was diagnosed with trachoma during a training course for Tropical Data ‘master trainers’. Tropical Data is an innovative programme that uses mobile data to track trachoma around the world, so that Sightsavers and partners can find and treat it.

Master trainers are responsible for training trainers across a whole country. This particular group had travelled to Tanzania to upgrade their skills so they could then return to their countries and train others on how to identify trachoma. They came from many of the countries Sightsavers works in, including Sudan, Yemen, and Ethiopia.

To complete the training course, the Tropical Data master trainers had to correctly identify whether trachoma was present in the eyes of 50 children, by examining their eyelids and comparing them to a small circular, red sticker with five white dots, which are used to help identify what trachoma follicles would look like if present.

It was thanks to this training that Paolo was diagnosed, giving his family an explanation for his suffering. Paolo’s mum was given medicine to treat his trachoma infection, saving them the difficult 30km journey to the nearest hospital.

A health worker checks a boy's eyes.
Small round red stickers with white dots help diagnose trachoma by showing what trachoma follicles would look like if present.

The family were also given information on the importance of keeping hands, faces and their environment clean to stop the spread of infection, reducing the risk for the whole community. Now, Paolo is free to play and attend school with the other children.

A little boy smiling outside

With your support, we can continue reaching some of the most isolated communities, leaving no one behind in our mission to eliminate trachoma.

A little boy smiling outside

Find out how we're fighting disease

Sightsavers and Tropical Data

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