“My wife persuaded me to have the operation”

20 April 2017

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Tangasi Bwanakoo, aged 75, is a former village chairman in Tanzania who was forced to resign because of the pain in his eyes.

He suffered from trachoma, an infectious eye disease that causes the eyelashes to turn inwards and scratch on the eyeball. Members of his community were disappointed by his resignation as he was good at his job – they wanted him to “be their leader forever”.

About 40 years ago, Tangasi’s father was taken to a mission hospital where he was diagnosed with trachoma and at the same time, Tangasi was told he also had the disease. He was offered surgery, but he refused – as well as being the village chairman, he had large farms and a huge herd of cattle to look after, and his wife was worried about their livelihood. “Who will take care of the cattle and the farms?” she asked.

The tweezers that Tangasi used to pluck out his painful eyelashes.

As time went on, both Tangasi and his wife suffered as their vision deteriorated and the pain got worse. They were forced to stay indoors most days, feeling unable carry out everyday tasks. Once a month, their relatives – sometimes their eldest children – helped them pluck out the ingrown eyelashes using large tweezers (see picture), but the pain never went away.

Then last year, Tangasi’s wife decided to have surgery. The operation was successful: her vision was saved and she was able to go back to her normal life. This persuaded Tangasi to follow in her footsteps and agree to surgery.

Tangasi after his operation.

This photo shows him five weeks after the operation. He’s happy and the pain has gone – he’s able to spend time outside in the bright sunlight and his vision has improved. He now believes that pulling out the eyelashes with tweezers is not a sensible solution: it’s only temporary, and can make people believe they don’t need the operation that could save their sight.

Tangasi is just one of the patients who has been treated as part of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust’s Trachoma Initiative, which is working across the Commonwealth to eliminate blinding trachoma.