Between 15th February and 14th May 2019, UK supporters of Christian, overseas, disability charity CBM (www.cbmuk.org.uk) donated an amazing £845,000 to help people in the world’s poorest places ‘See the Way’ to a brighter future. Every pound was then doubled by the UK government through the UK Aid Match scheme. This funding is being used to deliver a new eye health project in Rwanda and specifically to highlight the need for better access to sight-saving treatment to prevent people from becoming needlessly blind.
One of the latest activities in the 3-year project funded by CBM’s See the Way appeal is an outreach clinic, which was realised thanks to generous donations by the UK public and match funding by the UK government. 34 people from rural Byumba District in Rwanda can see again, after a visit from a specialist eye health team carried out sight-restoring cataract operations in May of this year.
I had the opportunity to hear stories of what life has been like since losing their sight. They have been living in isolation. I’d never been into an operating theatre before, but I was lucky enough to go in and witness the short and simple operation where the cataract was removed. I can’t believe how quickly someone’s life can be changed.
The next day the hospital was filled with smiles, laughter, and joy when everyone’s bandages were removed. The happiness on people’s faces was something I will never forget. In such a short space of time, their lives had been transformed and they could see again. I can’t quite believe the contrast from when we met people in their homes before surgery, to when they arrived home able to see. Before they were dependant on someone else for everything. One lady we met had to use a cane and assistance from her son to walk, but when we returned, she spotted her granddaughter and carried her back to their home unassisted.
Xaverine had been blind for 4 years before arriving at Byumba hospital for the outreach clinic in May. She lives alone and has struggled to manage since losing her sight:
“It started with me not being able to recognise the faces around me. I now can’t walk around by myself… I live alone at home. I don’t have anyone to support me. I do sometimes get visitors to help but they come and go.”
Her sight loss was due to cataracts, the leading cause of blindness worldwide. The condition can be treated with straightforward surgery, but Xaverine was unable make the long journey to a specialist eye hospital for treatment.
For Xaverine, cataract surgery means being able to get around independently again, after years of relying on others to help her. “I’m happy to receive the treatment today. I believe I will be ok and afterwards I can walk around and maybe do something to profit my family.”
CBM’s See the Way project in Rwanda, launched in November 2020, is working to make more eye health services available in District Hospitals like the one in Byumba, bringing services closer to where most people live.
Dr. Theophile Tuyisabe from Kabgayi Eye Unit, who led the outreach team, said: “Today we managed to operate on 34 patients. We have this partnership between CBM and Kabgayi Eye Unit, where we are supporting some district hospitals.. we are strengthening their capacity, strengthening their eye units which are there, but also helping them to offer and deliver eye services to people living in those catchment areas. For those hospitals that do not have Ophthalmologists, Kabgayi team goes there to do eye surgeries.. it’s a way of bringing the services to the nearest place as much as we can.”
A lack of eye health services available in Rwanda means that people often have to travel great distances to get treatment, especially if they live in rural areas. As a result, they may become needlessly blind – and can stay blind for decades – if they can’t afford the cost of transport or are unable to make the journey. Too often for people living in poverty, losing your sight also means losing the chance to go to school or earn a living.
Dr. Marcel Uwizeye, Director General of Byumba District Hospital, explains:
When you get back your sight through cataract surgeries and you can see, it means you can work, for your home, for your family, for your community. So we cannot have enough words to value this cataract surgery.
Written by: Beth Taylor