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The images above tell a story about blindness in Nepal and some of the incredible work that is being done there by Tilganga Eye Hospital, with the support of The Fred Hollows Foundation in Australia.
When I visited Nepal I had the opportunity to travel to a remote and mountainous region called Charikot. Tilganga had spread the word that they would gut a school there for about 5 days and turn it into a makeshift hospital so that they could perform free cataract surgery for people in the surrounding areas.
Around 170,000 people in Nepal are blind, with cataract accounting for at least 70% of cases. Each year an additional 30,000 people become cataract blind. While the country has about 150 opthalmologists, 50% of these live in urban areas, despite 90% of the blind population living in rural areas.
Being blind in a country like Nepal causes massive challenges. Working on the land becomes increasingly difficult and with income levels already so low (78% of the population lives off $2/day), being unable to work and having to be cared for, can be crippling financially for a family. The people I spoke with talked frequently of what a burden they felt like to those that they loved.
It was unsurprising therefore to come across men who had walked for up to five days with their mother or their father in a basket on their back. With the opportunity to have their sight restored, they would do whatever was possible.
The photos above show the process involved in setting up an eye camp and treating a patient, a 14 year old girl called Kabita. The story starts with the arrival of the equipment. The school is then emptied and cleaned before operating tables are set up and equipment prepared. Hundreds of people turn up to have their eyes inspected by volunteers. Those with cataracts are led to a waiting area where they set up a bed for themselves (a mat on the floor) and wait for their turn. First they are given a local anaesthetic before they then have the short twenty minute operation. The following day after their eye patch is removed, doctors test their sight by asking them how many fingers they are holding up.
Kabita had spent six years blind in both eyes before her sight restoring surgery. She had been taken out of school once she began losing her sight and had spent the following six years in a room in her family home. While they worked she was left alone, having to crawl to the toilet and wait for someone to bring her food. These photos show the first of her operations. Her second eye was operated on shortly afterwards and Kabita can now see again. When asked what she most looked forward to now that she had her sight back, she replied “returning to school and being able to help my mother”.