It’s impossible to discuss a campaign to end cataract blindness without understanding the role that rural development plays in sustainable health care. Without providing communities education, they will not prosper. Without finding ways to bring medical treatments to the hands of those in need, communities will continue to fall behind. These challenges are inextricably linked in the campaign to fight cataract blindness.
Perhaps no one understands this better than Jamal Uddin Ahmed, an educator who has worked for the federal government in the Northeast Indian district of Dhubri since 2003. Jamal’s job is to identify children who are falling through the cracks in the district’s education system and then to investigate why.
When Jamal first met brother and sister Abdul Aziz and Modina, he knew there was something amiss. At 13, Abdul could not read and at 7, Modina was also behind. The family had four other children who seemed to be progressing normally. Jamal suspected there was something compromising their development. Through a government sponsored screening programme, Jamal’s suspicions were finally confirmed: Abdul and Modina were legally blind with congenital cataracts in both eyes.
Abdul and Modina’s father passed away two years ago and since then, their mother, Shadia Bewa has done her best to provide for the family on a day laborer’s wages. somewhere around $2.00 per day. Not knowing a cure for her children’s blindness existed, and not thinking to seek medical care because of financial uncertainties, Shadia did her best to give both Modina and Abdul a normal childhood, but admittedly, both spent a great deal of time close to home and school was not an option. With Jamal’s persistent advocacy and counseling efforts, Shadia soon learned that treatments for both her children were available — and free.
HelpMeSee’s partner hospital in Northeast India, Sri Sankaradeva Nethralaya, has a free-patient care unit that recently doubled in size. Keeping pace with their facilities, they’ve also worked hard in recent years to strengthen the relationships that support rural outreach efforts to communities in need. It is a network of efforts like this — across multiple agencies and interests — that make the campaign to end cataract blindness possible.
Modina and Abdul Aziz live in a village that spans roughly 6 square kilometres of Northeast Indian countryside with a population of more than 10,000 people. To get to the hospital for treatment, the Khuten family traveled over 300 km. First by foot, then by auto-rickshaw, by boat and finally by bus.
The expense of such travel and the cultural implications of a woman and her children traveling so far alone could have easily been a treatment. With HelpMeSee covering the cost of surgery and hospital programmes to cover transportation and housing, and a government advocate by her side, Shadia persisted.
On March 3, 2014, Dr. Harsha Bhattacharjee successfully removed cataracts from the right eyes of both Modina and Abdul Aziz. On September 18 of 2014, both children had the second removed, fully restoring their vision.
From isolation to inclusion, Modina and Abdul Aziz are learning to acclimate to the outside world they could not see for years. Modina is gregarious and engaged, and has begun attending school. Abdul is still shy — a keen observer — but with growing aspirations of becoming a businessman.
Hope of a productive future for Modina and Abdul Aziz can now also be seen in the smile of Shadia who, with the assistance of a network of organisations including HelpMeSee, brought a future of opportunity back into the lives of her children.