Global Disability Summit: Leaving no one behind

24 July 2018

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Today, the UK government is hosting its first Global Disability Summit with the International Disability Alliance and the government of Kenya to galvanise global efforts to address disability inclusion in international development and humanitarian assistance.

To coincide with this important meeting, we’re shining a light on how the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative is leaving no one behind by reaching some of the world’s most remote and marginalised people, to stamp out the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness.

The Trust’s Trachoma Initiative is working to eliminate blinding trachoma across 12 countries in the Commonwealth. Trachoma is a debilitating and potentially blinding bacterial eye infection, spread through contact with an infected person or by flies, and is prevalent in poor, rural communities with limited access to water and sanitation.

Our treatment programmes are delivered to some of the poorest and hardest to reach communities in the world. Plans are tailored to fit some of the most challenging and complex settings, and community-based care is provided to remote communities – many in areas affected by political unrest to hard-to-reach groups, such as nomadic tribes.

As part of our efforts to free communities from trachoma, we make a particular effort to help people with disabilities. Issues around transport, inaccessible services, discrimination, and poverty can provide obstacles to ensuring they receive the medical treatment they need.

This makes it vital that we do all we can to ensure they receive the care they need – actively encouraging people with disabilities to visit outreach camps for treatment and offer any support needed in order for them to access care.

Augusto Sualé showing us how he gets home in his wheelchair.

Augusto Suale (pictured above), from the Mussoril district of Mozambique, has used a wheelchair since he was a teenager.

This did not stop him making a living as a bicycle mechanic and supporting his family of 10 children. He now has 12 grandchildren, including a grandson he still lives with and supports.

However, when he was in his sixties he developed cataracts and the advanced, blinding stage of trachoma where the eyelashes turn inwards and permanently damage the surface of the eye. His eye problems were so profound that he could not see to work, and he became dependent on his daughter for food and care. Without her, he said, he would not have survived. It became more difficult for Augusto to leave the house. Eventually he stopped visiting relatives and friends and became socially isolated.

By 2015 things had deteriorated to such an extent that he was referred to the nearest hospital in Nampula. But he couldn’t afford to make the 230km round trip and was concerned he wouldn’t be able to take his wheelchair on public transport. “I just gave up on the possibility of getting treatment,” he said.

Fortunately after a follow-up appointment with a local ophthalmic technician who was trained through the Trust’s Trachoma Initiative, solutions were found to overcoming the barriers to him getting the treatment he needed. Augusto had surgery to correct the damage caused by trachoma. Transport was provided to take him to and from hospital, and he also had follow-up surgery to deal with the cataracts.

Augusto has now not only returned to work but is able to socialise with friends and attend community events. He said: “I feel very happy to have finally have regained my vision. Now I can do my own tea, cook, wash my clothes and move around because I see well now. If I decide to visit my daughter or to the mosque I don’t need help – I just decide to go and I go.”

Augusto washing clothes outside, he is smiling.

All photos ©Mércia Cumaio/Sightsavers