700 PERSONS WITH VISUAL IMPAIRMENT BENEFIT FROM ARUA HEALTH CAMP

Persons with visual impairment receiving eye care at a health camp in Arua

BY FEDERICK DRAMADRI

ARUA: WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2021

At least 700 persons with visual impairment have received eye care services during a two-day health camp organized by the Doctors with Africa (CUAMM) at Eruba School of the deaf in Arua district.

Many of the beneficiaries were given eye glasses, white canes and medication.

They however decried the rampant stigma in the community and high cost of corrective eye surgery both at the public and private hospitals and appealed to the government to subsidise the costs of eye operations.

Gladys Alezuyo, a mother of four, was one of those who made the passionate appeal after enduring 17 years of blindness.

“Before I got married I had one blind eye, then when I got married my husband continued giving support to me. After I gave birth to the fourth child I lost the second sight,” she recounted.

Alezuyo said she went to Arua regional referral hospital but was surprised when the medics told her that to carry an operation one eye costs sh300,000 and to have both eyes operated, she was told to part with sh600,000 if she was to regain sight.

“My husband had no money to pay. I came back and I have lived with total blindness to-date,’’ Alezuyo said

Grace Candiru, one of the visually impaired person in Arua city who is also a part-time school teacher, narrates that because of her condition people look at her as a perpetual beggar.

Sharing her experience in accessing banking services, Candiru disclosed that it’s a hard task for the blind.

“When you reach the door of the banks the first question they ask is what are going to do inside there? If you say I want to go and withdraw money you can access or else they say your guide should be the one, they feel you are going to ask for some money,” said Candiru.

“I personally faced this when I wanted to open an account at centenary bank. They asked me that as a blind person where do you get the money from? Do you beg from people? And this left me feeling down trodden.’’

Blind couples arrive for the health camp in Arua

The health camp organisers conceded that because of limited access to eye care services and the high costs of surgical operations most persons with eye complications do not have proper medical attention.

As a result about 1,000 persons with visual impairment registered in the districts of Arua, Terego and Arua city only wait for opportunities from non-governmental Organizations for eye checkups such as during events to mark the international day of the White Cane or Persons with Disability day.

Many of them who do not get such opportunities resort to seeking intervention from traditional herbalists or eating a lot of red pepper but in vein.

Isaiah Maburuk a south Sudan refugee in Rhino Camp settlement in Terego district who got an opportunity to start seeing after 27 years of blindness confessed that he visited several facilities for free operations right from South Sudan up to Uganda but he was unsuccessful.

He got the rare chance for free surgery on May, 15, 2021 when CUAMM and other partners like Lions Club, organized a medical camp at Omugo health center IV.

Linda Alangi, the president of Lions Club Arua, attributed the escalating cases of eye defects to the inadequacy of services provided to the communities and prevailing poverty.

Dr Amos Nyathirombo, an eye specialist who started the operations in Arua regional Referral Hospital Eye clinic in 2004, commented that poor health seeking behavior derails successful treatments.

“80% of the eye complications in West Nile are reversible either by use of eye glasses or medicines applied but most of those affected by these complications do not subject themselves to the health facilities. Not until they hear a free service is being brought to the community, that is when you see a person with a brand new vehicle even coming and yet these are meant for the vulnerable communities who cannot afford the services.’’

Dr Nyathirombo highlighted that most of the eye complications are due to diseases and cataract which is an age related condition leading to  either long-sightedness, shortsightedness or total blindness.

“The common cause of blindness in west Nile is cataract constituting over 50% and all these can be reversed through surgical operation. The other cause is river blindness commonly in Zombo, Madi Okollo, Maracha, Arua and Terego,’’ he said.

Cataract causes opacity in the natural eye lens thereby blocking light from reaching the retina and the only remedy is a surgical operation in which the damaged natural eye lens is removed and replaced with an artificial one.

Surgeons say the main reason for the high cost of the operations is that the artificial lenses are parked about one dozen and once unsealed all of them have to be used within 24 hours.

That means if there is only one patient, that person is compelled to pay for the cost of all the 12 lenses since the rest would be thrown away in case no other patient comes for operation.

But during a boot camp, the charities organizing such camps buy the lenses and pay allowances for the surgeons on behalf of the patients.

Juliet Lutomya, the CUAMM programmes manager, said that they organize such medical camps because they want to unite the people with disabilities such as visual impairment with the community.

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