Taking cataract surgery to Kenya's nomadic communities

This is the difference saving sight can make for a grandmother living in a nomadic community.

The people of Samburu in Kenya are proud, resourceful pastoralists. They have to be, to live in such a dry region north of the Rift Valley. 

Every five to six weeks these semi nomads are on the move, seeking fresh grazing for their livestock.

While the men usually tend the cattle, the women are responsible for the family, look after goats and camels and organize the building of the ‘manyatta,’ or temporary housing.

A serious illness or setback can deal the whole travelling community a blow.   

Poverty, vast distances and poor roads mean few can access formal medical care.

For over a decade, Sereiyen – a wife, mother and grandmother in her 60s – had been gradually losing her sight.

Two years ago the darkness closed in completely when she developed blinding cataracts.

In this region, many people have relied largely on natural remedies, particularly herbs, to keep healthy.

Sereiyen tried alternative medicines to save her failing sight, without success. 

It was only when she could no longer care for her grandchildren that she sought help.

Samburu is one of the largest counties in the country, but it has no ophthalmologist. Instead a cataract surgeon, an ophthalmic nurse and an assistant nurse look after a population of nearly 120,000.

Earlier this year, The Fred Hollows Foundation in Kenya teamed up with staff from the Maralal Hospital to conduct an outreach in Wamba. During the course of a week, the team restored sight to 54 people.

Sereiyen was one of them. She turned up at Wamba with a sack of potatoes, offering to cook the vegetables for the children but only when she was able to see again.

She says she had heard stories of people having their eyes taken out and replaced with goat’s eyes. So she was relieved to find out that a Kenyan doctor would undertake her surgery.

“I knew I could trust one of my own,” she said.

Sereiyen’s cataract operation was a success.

The sprightly grandmother has not only regained her sight but is able to cook and care for her grandchildren once more and to join in the local gossip.

> Find out more about The Foundation's work in Kenya.
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