I can’t imagine what it must be like to have the blink of an eye cause pain. But those who suffer from trichiasis—a manifestation of a blinding infectious eye disease called trachoma—experience it regularly.
And yet it’s heartening to know that a short surgery can bring relief and prevent further damage to the eye. The MMDP Project, which helps countries provide high-quality treatment and care for people suffering from the debilitating effects of trachoma and lymphatic filariasis, has been supporting trichiasis surgeries since 2016. Over 60,000 people have received trichiasis surgery in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Ethiopia through collaboration with ministries of health.
The effects of surgery for 60,000 people is difficult to appreciate out of context. World Sight Day offers an opportunity to pause and reflect on the stories that lie behind that number.
This summer I accompanied our team in Burkina Faso during their follow-up visits to people who had received surgery a few months prior. Two women in particular stand out in my memory. The first, 63-year-old Rimpagnimdé Ouedraogo, told us how the pain and tears in her eye disappeared after receiving surgery from the team that came to her village. Touching her eye, she said that before the surgery she suffered very much, but after the surgery she is doing much better. “Before, I couldn’t work well; but now the eye doesn’t stop me from working,” she explained.
The second woman, Alimata Ouedraogo, was all smiles when talking with the surgeon who examined her. Her satisfaction with the surgery was evident, and she initially asked the surgeon if she could give him a coin as payment. When he warmly assured her that the surgery was free, she wanted to go inside and get him some groundnuts as a token of thanks.
To imagine what similar stories might exist among 60,000 surgeries—and on an even greater scale across all of the surgeries supported by partners working in trachoma around the world—is remarkably encouraging. And along with reflecting on all that has been achieved in the global effort to eliminate trachoma as public health problem, today on World Sight Day we can also look ahead to the important work that remains.