The Long Journey To Sight

People in developing countries are so desperate to receive proper eye care they are travelling for hours and even days - by foot, bicycle and boat - to get to clinics.
A report by The Fred Hollows Foundation featured in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Long Journey to Sight, reveals the staggering lengths people go to, to seek treatment...
Jokh and his granddaughter Kamala walked for two days along dirt tracks in Nepal to a remote outreach clinic to get treatment for a cataract that had made him blind for six years. Kamala often missed school to look after her grandfather but after a simple 30-minute operation and a night of rest his sight was restored and Kamala was able to return to school.
The Fred Hollows Foundation chief executive Brian Doolan said 90 per cent of people with avoidable blindness - caused by cataracts, trachoma or diseases like river blindness (caused by infection with a parasitic worm) - come from countries in the developing world, where medical help is often too far away or too expensive.
"I've seen people carrying their parents or their grandparents or their children on their back and they would have been carrying those people often for many days," he said.
Often people did not know medical help was available until health messages were broadcast by radio or from a truck with a loudspeaker, he said.
That was the case for Kenyan father Boniface, who had watched the gradual decline in the sight of his four-year-old son George and five-year-old daughter Alice.
He heard a clinic was opening 12 kilometres away and was desperate to get answers.
"I felt that I could not miss this chance because I wanted to know what is the cause," he said.
It would have cost one week's wages to travel to the clinic by taxi so Boniface strapped George and Alice on the back of his bicycle and rode slowly for three-and-a-half hours to ensure the children's legs did not get caught in the spokes. He also gave them lollies to keep them from falling asleep.
The children were diagnosed with cataracts and he had to ride again to a clinic for their operation, which was paid for by the foundation. They can see again and their father hopes at least one will become a doctor.
The lack of eye care in the developing world has left millions of people unnecessarily blind, Mr Doolan said  
"In many parts of the world people think you grow old, your teeth fall out, your hair goes grey, you go blind and soon after that you die. The fact is that four out of five people who are blind don't have to be."
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