Sightsavers Reports

“The best part of my job is seeing someone’s life transformed”

Ophthalmic nurse Jeremiah Gwafa

All images © Sightsavers/Jason J Mulikita

Jeremiah is a big character, full of jokes and laughter. As an ophthalmic nurse, his sociable nature and infectious smile help him connect with people from all walks of life.

We travelled with Jeremiah as he visited local communities in Binga, northern Zimbabwe, where he screens and treats people for eye conditions such as cataracts and trachoma. We discovered that there are many different sides to Jeremiah’s personality: he’s very knowledgeable about politics and he’s incredibly focused and passionate about his job.

Jeremiah has a special connection to his work: he was inspired to become an ophthalmic nurse because his grandmother was blind. As a child, he didn’t understand the cause of her vision loss and his family wasn’t told that she had cataracts. Jeremiah talks fondly about his grandmother, but describes the “terrible state she lived in” with sadness and regret, and how witnessing this motivated him to become a nurse.

Ophthalmic nurse Jeremiah Gwawa examines children's eyes for trachoma.

In 1998, Jeremiah trained as an ophthalmic nurse via a Sightsavers scholarship. At that time, there was only one training school in southern Africa and students travelled to Malawi from all over the continent to study there – this was Jeremiah’s first experience of air travel.

He tells us how grateful he is to Sightsavers for funding his studies. “I’m a proud student through Sightsavers. I can function very well [in my role] and I think I’m skilled enough to do my best. The work that I’ve done speaks for itself. I’d be happy if Sightsavers expanded its training programme and had many other students coming out to help serve their communities in different ways.”

Ophthalmic nurse Jeremiah Gwafa and a colleague hand medication to an elderly male patient.

“I believe Sightsavers has a role to play in this world by providing eye care services.”

Ophthalmic nurse Jeremiah Gwafa and a colleague hand medication to an elderly male patient.

In Binga, where Jeremiah works, trachoma is common in childhood, sometimes affecting children as young as three years old. Scarring from trachoma, caused when the eyelashes turn inwards and scrape against the eyeball, is often found in children over the age of 14. The advanced form of the disease, known as trichiasis, is common in patients over the age of 30, which concerns Jeremiah. If left untreated, trichiasis can lead to blindness.

Jeremiah explains the devastating impact of the disease: “Life is unbearable: it’s miserable, because the person lives in perpetual pain. They can’t even be outside when it’s sunny. They always have to keep their faces covered. They’re also teary every day and they have to be led around.

“When you lose your sight, you’re almost equated to someone who has lost their being. Your dignity is lost, everything is lost. You are immobile and you become defunct.”

Trachoma can affect the whole community. If a child has trachoma, the parent can’t work. If a parent has trichiasis, then it has an impact on their children’s education – it’s a cyclical problem. But ophthalmic nurses like Jeremiah can help treat and prevent the disease by referring patients for surgery and distributing medication that protects communities.

Ophthalmic nurse Jeremiah Gwafa smiles as he stands next to a local community member.

“When someone’s life is transformed, it has ripple effects on their family, community and on the country’s economy. I think that is the epitome of my profession.”

Ophthalmic nurse Jeremiah Gwafa smiles as he stands next to a local community member.

As an ophthalmic nurse, Jeremiah meets many different people. Learning about local languages, cultural norms and how people prefer to communicate has enabled him to forge lasting relationships and deliver treatments successfully. He believes that without building trust, avoidable blindness and eye problems would persist because communities would be less likely to engage with health professionals and mass drug administration programmes.

As well as successes, there are many daily challenges in Jeremiah’s work. A lack of funding and resources means a shortage of basic drugs, limited equipment for operations and not enough transportation to reach rural communities. In the future, he hopes to see basic health care available for everyone, more awareness programmes to help prevent people from going blind and additional funding partnerships that focus on eliminating trachoma.

“The support that has come from Sightsavers is invaluable. May the supporters know that they’ve impacted greatly on some people’s lives in this part of the world. They’re doing a great deal of good work here because patients and communities are happy today. Everyone likes that support that has come here, and we wish this could continue.”

The vital work of ophthalmic nurses like Jeremiah relies on funding from our generous supporters. Making a donation to us, or remembering Sightsavers in your will, can help us train more eye health workers, distribute medication to children and families and refer those in need for sight-saving operations. Your gift can have a huge impact.

Ophthalmic nurse Jeremiah Gwafa screens community members' eyes for trachoma.

“I stay in my job because I enjoy seeing people happy, to see people return to their families and be accepted for who they are.”

Ophthalmic nurse Jeremiah Gwafa screens community members' eyes for trachoma.

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