We only get one pair in our lifetime so they need to be taken care of. Site can often be taken for granted, until one day we may never have it.
Eye problems run in our family. My husband has a lazy eye (as a result of a bang on the head). My eldest son has been wearing glasses since he was 3 years old. He has a strong prescription and suffers with astigmatism. My youngest daughter had to have an eye test at 3 months old for suspected Retinoblastoma (cancer of the eye) – thankfully it wasn’t, and I have been wearing glasses since I was 15.
As you can see, eye sight is really important to me and my family. That is why I really wanted to get involved in the Million Miracles campaign.
What is A Million Miracles?
A Million Miracles is a new campaign from SightSavers helping to draw attention to the life-changing impact of sight-saving surgeries. Surgeries like 69-year-old Winesi March is due to have on the 8th October .
Winesi lives in the remote Mwandaza Village in Africa and suffers with Bilateral Cataracts and has been waiting a while for his operation.
His sight has been declining for more than a decade. Three years ago he could still make out the path and get around, and was working on his farm planting and hoeing.
Two years ago his vision got a lot worse, and he’s been totally blind since then.
He can’t work anymore, although he occasionally forces himself to try, but it usually ends in injury. His typical day used to be full of activity; now when he wakes he waits for his family to help him, and then he sits on his mat. Sometimes he changes location, but he needs help to move the mat. If he needs the toilet, or wants to prepare food, he needs someone to guide him.
Losing his sight has knocked Winesi’s confidence and he can’t relax because he worries
that if someone came to assault him he wouldn’t know.
This isn’t his only fear.
He worries that there’s nobody to support the family, and feels he should be able to provide for them. He misses his role as breadwinner. His wife Namaleta, their 13 children and many grandchildren do what they can, but it’s a struggle, and when the food they have harvested currently is finished, he doesn’t know what they’ll do to get by. A lot of extra pressure is on Namaleta, who now shoulders the responsibility of work and keeps the household running.
Winesi gets followed up by outreach Ophthalmic Clinical Office (OCO) called Madalitso.
Madalitso makes a 40 minute journey into the rural Thambani ranges every Wednesday, on a motorbike piled with eye screening equipment and medication. He sees as many patients as he can during the morning session, with problems ranging from cataracts and glaucoma to allergies and refractive error.
He follows this up with home visits to people who can’t make it to the health centre, some of whom live in extremely isolated areas that can only be reached on foot.
Madalitso is also responsible for outreach visits to two other health centres within the Mwanza district, and works four days a week at the district hospital. In the area where he works, covering more than 45,000 people, Madalitso is the only ophthalmic clinician.
It’s a stressful workload (and that’s putting it mildly), and has to be balanced with
time spent with his wife Bridget, a nurse at Mwanza hospital, and their 18-month-old
son Eric. Not to mention finding time to indulge his other passion – football.
Despite this juggling act, Madalitso (whose name means ‘Blessings’) does amazing work. He gently coaxes babies to look at him and makes them smile. He takes his time talking to the patients about how they’re doing, and talks people through their upcoming operations, letting them know what to expect, quieting their nerves and making sure they understand the course of treatment.
The clinic at the hospital isn’t ideally set up for his work, but the outreach work is even more challenging. Sometimes there aren’t vehicles to bring patients to the hospital for
treatment and for many patients to travel on foot is almost impossible. There are public transport options, and motorbike taxis, but for a 30km ride it would cost around 3,500 kwacha (about GBP£5) one way – and this is much more than most people earn.
The lack of medical supplies is another difficult factor in Mada’s work – “If Sightsavers wasn’t here to support us,” Mada says, “we would be much further behind in terms of eye care services. Sightsavers provides the bike, the equipment, training for me, training for surgeons. If Sightsavers wasn’t here, we would have less than 10 eye care professionals in the country. But now each year a new OCO is trained in Malawi.” He continues: “There is much to do. It keeps me busy, but it makes me feel good. There’s a man who had his sight restored after having a cataract last year. He is now so jovial and happy. Every time he is selling bananas near the hospital he will come and visit me. He always cheers me up and makes me smile; it makes my day when he comes. It feels good to celebrate, in your heart, with someone who had very little sight, but then it is restored to them. It makes me feel really good to know that I contributed to that.”
Performing Winesi’s cataract surgery on 8th October 2014 is ophthalmologist Dr Gerald Msukwa.
Dr Msukwa works at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital which serves nearly five million people in Southern Malawi. He will be performing Winesi’s operation LIVE in a Google Hangout.
Dr Msukwa came from a very humble background. His dad was a teacher and his mum a housewife (or as he likes to call her, a house manager). He originally wanted to be a scientist and enrolled for a science degree at The University of Malawi. It was there that his interest in Medicine developed.
After two years he applied to St Andrews University in Scotland under a British Council
sponsorship – at that time the government had a partnership with the Council to help
train Malawian doctors. He got picked and after three years he moved to St Mary’s
Hospital for clinical work. By the end of the training he was back in Malawi, and it was
during this time that his interest in ophthalmology was strengthened.
He had heard how a single eye surgeon was treating the entire country, and was fascinated by the technology in the field. After working for two years, he applied to the University of Nairobi to specialise in ophthalmology, and in 2005 was appointed to set up the second eye hospital in the country.
He set up the eye unit at Queens and was part of a group that carried out a survey in schools for blind children in Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. His findings were that over 85% of those children should never have been blind. He was so moved he went into lobbying to set up a paediatric eye service at Queens for the whole country. With the help of friends and blessing from the government, they now operate on over 400 children every year.
Dr Msukwa says “The challenges are many. When you work in a poorly-resourced country, you are not only a doctor but also a lobbyist and an advocate as most of the time, even the basic resources are not there. I have one simple philosophy. I believe Africa is a half-written book with the other half blank. You either read it and feel inspired to leave a line of your own – or read it, drop it and run. I chose the former. At 45 years old, I don’t live in a fool’s paradise. I know the limit of what a single individual can achieve, and in the last chapter of my life my attention is turning to motivating as many doctors [as possible]. I’m trying to work with like-minded friends to come up with ways of making them stick around once they specialise. Once that is achieved, my chapter is closed.”
If you feel inspired and want to get involved, there are several ways for you to do so.
We want everyone to share the moment – questions and message of support will be collected from the audience to be asked live on air and we’ll share all the behind the scenes activity. And of course, people can donate a miracle themselves by giving £30, or whatever they can afford at www.millionmiracles/donate.
The UK government is supporting A Million Miracles, so until 31st December, all UK donations are being matched. This means a £30 donation to fund a cataract operation actually saves the sight of two people, at no extra cost to the supporter!
Join in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #UKAid and by following @DFID_UK