Bringing Treatment to the Regions
For Alice, trachoma trichiasis has meant the loss of her independence. Unable to cook, farm, or do her own housework, she has relied on the support of her granddaughters, and her eyes ‘always felt uncomfortable’.
Despite this, when Alice learned at an outreach camp that surgery was available which could preserve her sight and end her pain, her family were resistant, fearing that an operation could do more harm than good. It was Alice’s own faith in the doctors she had spoken to, whom she viewed as ‘learned people’, that spurred her on. Following successful treatment she has encouraged several of her neighbours to access the same help.
Around 125 people were screened for trachoma at outreach camps in Nkumaniza and Dolo on 28th August, resulting in 30 patients being referred for surgery. Others were found to have early-stage trachoma, treatable with ointment, while some were diagnosed with cataract and other eye conditions.
A network of volunteers provides the vital role of ensuring that the people who most need the camps both know of their existence and are able to access them. Rex, the local Opthalmic Clinical Officer, has ‘key informants’, as he refers to them, in each area. These volunteers are equipped with mobile phones so that Rex can let them know the details of forthcoming camps. They then go round the neighbourhood house by house to spread the word, hoping at the same time to dispel some of the fear that surgery often holds for people.
Getting to the screening can be easier said than done, as patients frequently have to travel long distances over poor quality roads. One patient, Kelena, had walked for two hours with her granddaughter to attend the camp, hoping for relief from the constant pain trachoma trichiasis causes her. When possible, families will scrape together the funds for a motorbike taxi, or if necessary local partners will aim to provide support.