Harriet: Giving people their sight back
For Harriet, an eye health worker in Iganga, Uganda, work has a very personal motivation.
“The reason why I’m interested in eye care is my grandma,” she says. “She had glaucoma and just lost her vision there and then. She was still young, but totally blind. I had to find out why – I wanted to know more about eye care and what makes people blind.”
Harriet was originally keen to become a low vision therapist, but couldn’t afford the training. Instead she joined the Ophthalmic Clinical Officer (OCO) course, and three years on she divides her time between trachoma trichiasis TT outreach camps, where she screens, treats and operates on patients; outreach work in outlying villages; and treating patients in the eye department at Iganga hospital in the capital, Kampala.
“These camps have really helped us, we can see lots of people,” she says. “When I was young we didn’t have these camps – people would just have to go to hospital, which is too far for many. But this programme has helped the patients to get proper treatment at local health centres.”
While the camps have greatly increased the number of people with access to treatment, Harriet emphasises that for many they are still a journey too far.
“Most people live around 15km from a health centre so it’s very important we go to them. If we didn’t, they can’t afford transport so they can’t access services unless we go, and they will go blind, or even die.”
Harriet might operate on six patients in one afternoon at the surgery camps, while travelling to the villages involves long boda-boda (motorcycle-taxi) journeys on bad roads. But she is passionate about the impact of what she does.
“I like being busy and having lots of surgeries to do. When you’re not doing surgery and training you might forget the techniques. I feel so proud when I give someone their vision!”