Seeing is Believing – restoring sight in Ivory Coast
In March, I visited Ivory Coast in West Africa to monitor the progress of our project to scale up the prevention of blindness in the country. This is one of several CBM projects co-funded by Standard Chartered’s Seeing is Believing Programme.
The aim of our programme in Ivory Coast is to increase the number of people who receive cataract surgery to restore their sight. The catchment area of the project includes 7 hospitals, covering a population of around 5.4 million. In that area, an estimated 31,500 are blind due to cataract, according to Ivory Coast’s Eye Health Strategic Plan 2013-16. Cataracts can be easily treated with a simple surgical procedure – but for most Ivorians, sight saving treatment is out of reach because there aren’t enough suitable facilities or trained doctors.
In a poor country like Ivory Coast, where nearly 1 in 4 people lives on less than $1.25 a day, losing your sight is a terrifying prospect. At the COMB hospital in Dabou, I met Seydou, who was waiting to undergo cataract surgery. Seydou was forced to give up his job as a minibus taxi driver three months ago, when sight loss in one eye meant that he couldn’t judge the distance between his taxi and other cars. With little or no support available from the state, he had to rely on family and friends to support him, his wife and his seven children. For him, the surgery was life-changing – very soon he will be working again, regaining his independence and the chance to escape poverty.
Another patient I met at COMB hospital was Ndri Kouassi. In his 70s, the former draughtsman became completely blind due to cataract four years ago. It was a traumatic experience; he became completely dependent on family members. In hospital, before surgery, he seemed vulnerable and lost; his wife held his arm to guide him but he often stumbled. A few days later I met him at his home. With his sight restored, he was a changed man, laughing and confident. Now he could see his children and grandchildren, he explained, he was no longer in the wilderness.
CBM has been working with COMB hospital for many years and the hospital is playing a key role in our programme, hosting a training programme for eye-specialists in carrying out cataract surgery. Once they’ve completed their 6 month training programme, these doctors will work at one of four new cataract surgery facilities that CBM is setting up and equipping at regional hospitals. By the end of the four year programme, we expect to have trained 42 ophthalmologists and increased the number of cataract surgeries by 200%.
Currently many patients have to travel miles to get the surgery they need. I met one elderly lady who was staying with relatives so that she could get to hospital for surgery. I was struck by the dedication of her daughters, who had made the long, difficult journey with her so that their mother could have her sight restored. But for many people who have lost much of their sight, such a journey would be impossible. Equipping regional hospitals and training doctors to work in them is vital if eyecare services are to be accessible to those that need them most.