Kuala: Treatment in a Refugee Camp
When 19-year-old Kuala’s village in South Sudan was attacked, he and his family were forced to flee across the border into Kenya.
Now living at Kakuma refugee camp, which has been in operation since 1989 and holds 200,000 Sudanese refugees, his life is harder than many of us can imagine. Yet on top of that, blinding trachoma – a bacterial eye infection that’s the leading cause of blindness in developing countries – has claimed the vision in one of his eyes, and 20 per cent of that in the other.
“I have been slowly losing my vision over time, but my family cannot afford for me to go to a doctor,” he says. Kuala has managed to find odd jobs in Kakuma to earn small amounts of money, but often finds himself ostracised by his peers as his failing eyesight means he can’t read or participate in games. It’s a situation that makes him feel desperately sad and isolated. His condition also causes him immense and constant pain.
Kuala hears from a community worker in the camp about a free eye clinic in Kakuma, so one morning he sets off early to walk there. He’s examined by surgeon Maurice Oduor, who explains to Kuala that while the sight in one of his eyes has completely gone – long-term infection has made his eyelashes bond to his eyeball, making his eye extremely sore and severely damaging his vision – Maurice tells Kuala that the other eye can be saved.
The diagnosis concerns Kuala, who worries he won’t be able to see well enough to work. “I need to be able to earn enough to take care of my family. But I am happy that by having an operation in one eye, I will be able to keep the little sight I have.”
Later that afternoon, he goes into surgery and, when he returns the next day to have his eyes checked, washed and dressed, he looks happier. “The pain has gone away,” he says. “Before, my eyes were very painful, but now I am so happy I won’t go totally blind.”
Kuala is just one of the patients being treated under The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Trachoma Initiative that is being rolled out by members of the International Coalition for Trachoma Control, including Sightsavers – one of a number of implementing partners delivering the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative across 11 Commonwealth countries across Africa, the Pacific and in Australia.
Maurice, who operated on Kuala, is a trained cataract surgeon and the project coordinator for the Trust Trachoma Initiative. He has dedicated his working life to eliminating the disease in Kenya. “My mission as an eye surgeon is to do something unique in my country that gives me pride,” he says. “It feels emotional to help people, particularly if they regain their sight, and I’m happy that I’m giving something back to the community.”