Kemeru Abdela, an 80-year-old woman from East Hararghe district in Ethiopia, first discovered she had a problem with her eyes about 20 years ago.
“All I felt were some persistent irritations that made me scratch my eyes and remove the lashes using my fingers,” she said.
Kemeru had developed trachoma, a painful but preventable eye disease prevalent in the eastern part of Ethiopia.
Fortunately for Kemeru, her routine of exchanging wood for food by the road side near her home, coincided with the arrival of community mobilisers who told her about surgery to restore her sight.
The Fred Hollows Foundation, in partnership with the Government of Ethiopia and the Oromia Regional Health Bureau were able to organise trachomatous trichiasis (TT) surgery for Kemeru.
Her surgery was the 100,000th
supported by The Fred Hollows Foundation in Ethiopia.
Kemeru’s home in Babile district is in Oromia region where 27 million people are at risk of developing trachoma and 150,000 are in danger of losing their sight without surgery.
Kemeru, has no children to look after her, lives alone and is in constant pain.
“The agony is unbearable but I can’t do anything to make it fade away. Nothing ever works. What can I do? Sometimes I can’t even sleep.”
Kemeru made the journey alone, by foot to the hospital for surgery.
After successful surgery, Kemeru can look forward to a future free of the blinding disease.
“With additional help from God, the surgery was successful and my vision was restored. Now I am able to see clearly both during the day and at night, unlike before where I could only see a bit clearer during the day.
“I am glad that The Fred Hollows Foundation brought this treatment right into our home,” she said.
The Foundation’s Ethiopia Acting Country Director Dr Zelalem Habtamu said strong partnerships at the local level were saving the sight of hundreds of thousands of people like Kemeru and reducing the national surgical backlog by some two-thirds.
“When The Fred Hollows Foundation started work in Oromia about four years ago there were 150,000 people desperately waiting for surgery.
“We have made massive inroads into the problem and will continue our efforts to ensure everyone who needs surgery gets it and that together we eliminate trachoma in Ethiopia.”
The Foundation’s trachoma elimination work is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Sightsavers and in part with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the ENVISION project, led by RTI International, and the MMDP Project, led by Helen Keller International.
Photos and story by Mark Maina