Jacinta: “I thought my eye problem was normal”
“The greatest fear that I had when I started losing my vision was who would take care of my children,”
When Jacinta Akai, a 30-year-old mother of two from northwest Kenya, started to notice irritation and blurred vision in her right eye, she brushed it off as a minor inconvenience. As a member of the Turkana community, accustomed to migrating seasonally across the borders of Kenya, Uganda and Sudan, she was familiar with the symptoms: her parents and many of her fellow villagers suffered from the same complaint. They saw it as normal, so Jacinta never considered seeking medical attention, even when her eyelashes brushing on her cornea started to cause her pain.
When the irritation started happening in her left eye, she resorted to a traditional remedy, plucking the eyelashes that bothered her. “It was first one lash touching the eye,” she explains. “Slowly but progressively, the lashes touching the eyeball increased and because I had seen other people pluck theirs, I did the same. But the more I plucked, the more painful my eyes became.”
Jacinta had just started a temporary job at a hotel in Lokichogio as a cleaner in the laundry department, but her blurred vision and eye discharge made it increasingly difficult to cope with her workload. She’d heard on the radio that eye care workers were holding an outreach camp at the local hospital, but while she was worried about her work, she still didn’t consider her condition serious enough to warrant attention. It wasn’t until the outreach workers visited her during house-to-house screening that she was identified as having trachoma in both eyes.
As the sole carer for her two children following the death of their father, Jacinta worried about who would take care of them if her vision deteriorated further. So when the screening team told her that her problem could be corrected through surgery, she sought permission from her employer and agreed to go to hospital for an operation on her right eye.
Two weeks after surgery, the change was dramatic. “Is this how people with normal vision feel?” she told workers during her post-operative review. “I can’t remember when last I had such calm days. Right now I can see things clearly, I can work well, and stains that used to remain on the hotel linen after I washed them no longer remain.”
Such was the success of the first operation that she booked an appointment for surgery on her left eye. “The greatest fear that I had when I started losing my vision was who would take care of my children,” she explains. “That fear is no more.”
(Case study courtesy of Diocese of Lodwar/Sightsavers)