For nearly half of her life, 27-year-old Filipina Jocelyn Timbang has struggled to see.
The young woman from San Manuel, in the province of Tarlac, north east of the capital Manila, began to lose sight in both eyes when she was seven.
By the time she turned 10 she could neither read nor see the blackboard in class so she dropped out of school.
For the next decade Jocelyn was confined mostly to home where she was unable to move around without bumping into things. When she did go out, she had to be accompanied.
Jocelyn is not the only one in her family to go blind. Her parents as well as her two sisters also lost their sight, while her four-year-old son was born with blurred vision. In total, 17 members of her extended family have congenital cataracts.
“If you are in a resource-poor part of the world, children (with eye problems) tend to be treated conservatively, in other words nothing is done,” says The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Medical Director, Dr Richard Le Mesurier. “Often people don’t have access to an ophthalmologist let alone one who has experience with children.”
“If then (later) they can access more skilled help and facilities then the results of surgery for cataract removal can be very good. A lot depends upon the age at which the individual went blind and whether they saw well at some time in the past.”
A relative told Jocelyn about the Tarlac Eye Centre (TEC), with whom The Foundation recently went into partnership, and urged her to have her eyes checked.
She was fortunate that staff from the Centre were conducting screenings near her home because her family couldn’t afford to pay for a tricycle to visit the hospital.
In 2011 the cataract in her right eye was removed. After the surgery she was able to see her then one-year-old son for the first time. A second operation on her left eye followed the next year.
Jocelyn’s eyesight is not perfect. She can only read large print and needs spectacles which are outside the family budget. Despite this she says it’s the simple things that she enjoys such as being able to cross the street and visit the market, to fetch her son from school and being able to see what she is wearing.
The Philippines Department of Health estimates 303,136 people among the Philippines population of 96.7 million suffer from avoidable blindness – the majority from untreated cataract.