Northern Bahr el Ghazal, with an estimated population of 2 million, is the most populous area in South Sudan. Yet, there is no eye care in the whole state.
‘The magnitude of blindness is staggering,’ writes eye specialist Dr Sture Nyholm.
MAF flew Dr Sture Nyholm and his team from Christian Blind Mission from Kampala to the town of Aweil, along with the delicate medical equipment. The team stayed for two weeks to provide eye care.
Sture’s wife Eunice describes the remarkable scene they faced each morning:
‘Passing through the hospital gate we suddenly stop, amazed by the crowd of people in front of the building where our temporary eye clinic is set. Reaching the crowd we realise that we have no access to the entrance of our working area. There are blind people sitting all over on the veranda. White cataracts, staring at us, shine in the faces of the patients who have waited for nights and days.
'Many are hungry and tired. A smell of old urine stings in our noses. Nobody wants to risk losing their place, not even for a visit to the latrine. There is dust all over. Wooden blind sticks, are scattered all over inbetween the patients. The mosquitos have been disturbing. We sense despair in the air. The humming sound is increasing when we are trying to pass through the crowd. It is difficult to keep the balance when you try not to step on legs, feet, hands and blind sticks. Finally we reach the door and can enter into the building.’
Joy in their faces
Eunice continues, ‘Patients are registered, visual aquity is checked and a short examination by the eye doctor determines if you need surgery or not. A sticker is put above the eye to be operated on. This “number plate” gives you the right to join the surgery queue. But when you hear your name and are allowed to enter into the theatre, you have been seen, as an individual. A broad smile is spread on the face. You are known by your name.’
The team stayed for more than two weeks in Aweil, their third trip to this area.
‘Fifteen working days, eleven working hours every day pass very fast,’ shares Eunice. ‘But towards the end of our stay in Aweil we feel in our whole being that soon there is need for rest. Our vision though, of many forgotten blindsticks, covered in spider webs in a dark corner somewhere, gives us energy to fight blindness to the very end.
More than 800 patients are screened, out of them 413 are called in by their names to the operation theatre. 405 persons have a sight restoring experience after a cataract operation. Among them several children. The joy is indescribable among the children and their parents.’
‘We are again overwhelmed by the poverty and the suffering of many Sudanese in this area,’ writes Eunice.
‘Our efforts in operating 405 blind cataract patients may just be a drop in the ocean, warns Dr Nyholm. ‘We still had to leave about 300 blind people behind. Until some structures for permanent eye care has been 'established' my strong suggestion is that Aweil has to be visited regularly.
MAF is privileged to serve alongside CBM in helping to restore hope in forgotten places.
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