A journey in Virtual Reality in Madagascar



In the hallways of our first partner hospital in Madagascar is a saying often heard among the staff. “La voie c’est la vie.” Sight Is Life. For patients who have their sight restored through cataract surgery, the truth of the words is easy to see. But for every person who goes blind from untreated cataract, there are usually at least four or five other family members who all carry a part of the burden of blindness.


Randria lives with her grandmother and five other members of her family on the outskirts of Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. She is 20 now but when she was younger, her grandmother Razanabelo— who they fondly call “Bozy” — would take care of her young brother and sister. Randria didn’t expect that to change since her grandmother always seemed so happy around her youngest grandchildren.


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Randria’s family lives in Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar.


Of the seven family members living together, only one uncle can work. He makes a little more than $1 each day selling newspapers in town — enough to buy about 5 pounds of rice for the whole family each day. The rest of them spend time around their home or in their neighborhood. All seven live together in a small brick home with a well in the back, several dogs and a family of chickens that just hatched eggs.


Randria herself planned to go to work to support her family. Her grandmother could watch over her 7 year old brother, Kiady, and 5 year old sister, Finch. Hopefully she could find a higher paying job closer to the heart of the city.


Two years ago though, her grandmother began to have problems with her vision. For years she managed well with one eye (the other she lost to an accident some time ago), but her remaining eye became blurry. She started to have problems walking around in their backyard. Eventually she could no longer recognise the faces of her own family or who was where in their home.As the cataract developed, she became completely blind.


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Randria’s grandmother, Razanabelo, lost her left eye years ago in an accident. When she developed a cataract in her right eye, she became completely blind.


Earlier this year, a community health worker from HJRA, the capital’s largest eye hospital and one of HelpMeSee’s most recent partners, visited their community. They tested the vision of several of their neighbours, and when they tested the eyesight of Randria’s grandmother, they recognised a common condition — cataract. Fortunately, they explained to the family, she could be treated if she could visit the local hospital.


And so in February, Randria and several other family members traveled by public bus with their grandmother to HJRA to meet with the doctors. Dozens of other potential patients joined them in line as the first to be treated during the new partnership with HelpMeSee.


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Randria spent almost every hour of the day taking care of her youngest siblings after her grandmother became blind from an untreated cataract.

After doctors checked her sight and decided she was eligible for surgery, Razanabelo went in to the operating room that afternoon. The surgery was brief — less than 10 minutes. She spent the night at the hospital and returned home with several of her relatives the next morning.


Three days later, we visited the family to follow up after the surgery. Patients typically wear dark glasses provided by the hospital to protect their sight for the first week after surgery, but Randria had already selected a pair of fashionable shades for her grandmother.


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When we asked her how she felt, at first she didn’t say a word. She started to dance and soon jumped out of her chair and then she danced around their entire yard. And then, after a few more dances around their home, she smiled and told us: “Before I could see nothing. Now I can see everything!”