© Photo Courtesy of Operation Eyesight
Turning on the tap and getting clean, abundant water is something many of us take for granted. For people like Elina, who lives in the remote village of Munkala in Zambia’s Sinazongwe District, lack of access to clean water can mean the difference between sight and blindness.
When Elina began having intense pain in her eyes, she had few options for treatment. Living 120 km from the nearest hospital, she and her family spent all they had in search of answers, including local traditional healers. However, Elina continued to suffer for nearly two years.
“My eyes were so painful. I had to remain indoors all the time,” the 63-year-old grandmother of four recalls.
When Operation Eyesight heard about Elina’s story, local teams diagnosed her with trachoma, a bacterial disease that leads to permanent blindness if left untreated. Fortunately, Operation Eyesight partners provided surgery and antibiotics before Elina lost her vision permanently. Thanks to Operation Eyesight’s generous donors, Elina received her care free of charge.
When Elina’s vision worsened a year later due to cataracts, Operation Eyesight donors again made it possible to have vision-saving and life-changing surgery.
Clean water and avoidable blindness
Trachoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide, with 2.5 million cases globally each year. The disease is spread through touch, shared garments, and sometimes eye-seeking flies. Left untreated, trachoma infections cause scarring inside the eyelids, making the eyelashes scratch the cornea. This causes severe pain and can lead to irreversible blindness. Thanks to Operation Eyesight’s work in communities like Elina’s, in 2017, the prevalence of trachoma in the southern Zambian district of Sinazongwe decreased to less than 2.1 percent, down from 14.4 percent just five years earlier.
Operation Eyesight uses a four-pronged approach to eliminating trachoma in communities, following the acronym SAFE—Surgery to treat trichiasis (the painful late stage of the disease), Antibiotics to eliminate infection, Face washing and hygiene education, and Environmental change, including wells and latrines.
In Zambia and also in Kenya, Operation Eyesight is laying the foundation for healthy communities by building wells, drilling and rehabilitating boreholes, providing vision care and treatment, and educating communities on hygiene practices.
By providing communities with clean water, vision care and treatment, and education, Operation Eyesight has successfully eliminated trachoma in Sinazongwe District and is on track to eliminate trachoma in four districts in the central part of Zambia.
“We know that access to fresh water and proper sanitation for people to wash their hands, face, and clothing helps prevent the spread of trachoma and a host of other illnesses,” explains Paul Mpundu Kulya, Operation Eyesight’s Project Manager in Zambia. “Operation Eyesight is paving the way to eliminating preventable blindness in our communities.”
When a borehole is drilled or rehabilitated, Operation Eyesight then sets up local Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) committees. Members are trained to maintain the borehole, ensure its longevity, and provide community health education sessions to help people improve their sanitation habits.
Along with helping prevent the transmission of illnesses like trachoma, malaria, and COVID-19, a clean water source empowers communities to become hubs for local trade and provides increased economic opportunities.
“In many communities, the task of hauling water commonly falls to women and girls. Locally accessible
water means women and girls have time to go to school, earn a living or become more active in their family or community,” says Operation Eyesight President and CEO Kashinath Bhoosnurmath.
Bhoosnurmath says new schools are often built near boreholes due to their central location and easy access to water. Existing schools are expanded to accommodate increased attendance, as more girls can participate in school now that they don’t have to walk far distances to fetch water.
World Water Day is Tuesday, March 22. A donation to Operation Eyesight helps provide clean water and prevent blindness and empower communities across the globe.
Learn more at operationeyesight.com
Operation Eyesight an international development organization working to prevent blindness and restore sight.