Many of us take our sight for granted and we often forget how fortunate we are to have easy access to eye health services here in the UK. 90% of visual impairment could be prevented or treated, but millions of people worldwide don’t have access to eye tests, glasses or treatment like cataract surgery.
To address the bigger picture at the country and global level, we need to be aware of our own eye health, which is why the theme for World Sight Day (14th October) was all about #LoveYourEyes.
This month, as part of our #RightToSight campaign, we’re sharing the inspiring stories of Nhung, Khut and Pom who live in remote communities in Vietnam. They all faced huge barriers to accessing eye health care, until receiving sight-restoring cataract surgery at CBM’s partner hospital.
Nhung is a lively, friendly and outgoing little girl (pictured below with her older sister, La). She’s been living in pain for over a year because of the cataracts in her left eye, which leaves her especially sensitive to sunlight. Nhung lives in a small village, 130km away from the bustling town of Dien Bien in Vietnam. It’s a long, winding, five-hour car journey to get there – a journey that most families cannot afford, including Nhung’s. This is the reason that Nhung has been unable to access sight-saving treatment… until now.
To reach Nhung’s family home, CBM staff hike down a steep narrow path, through dense bushland – carrying their equipment. The village elders and extended family stand outside Nhung’s home, excited about greeting them. Nhung sings a song to welcome the CBM staff and explains that she loves singing and leads the choir at school.
Nhung lives in an old wooden house, built with roughly sawn wooden planks and a tin roof. She shares this with her parents, older brother and sister and grandparents. An open fire with a large pot on it is used for cooking – but fills the home with smoke. This smoke irritates Nhung’s already painful eye and she continually rubs it. Without running water for washing hands, Nhung rubs dirt and grit into her eye – making the pain worse and the risk of infection high.
Nhung’s family are farmers – they keep animals and grow crops to eat. This provides the family with food, but there isn’t money left over for much else. Her older sister explains that she loves her sister so much, but is upset when she thinks of her sisters’ eyesight becoming so bad.
Nhung’s mother and father tell the CBM worker that they are really worried about her eyesight. As they explain this, the stress and concern on her father’s face is clear. Her mother wipes away tears as she speaks about her daughter’s struggles with her failing eyesight.
Sadly, Nhung’s eye examination reveals that her condition is more complicated than first thought, but there is hope… the family can take Nhung to CBM’s partner hospital, Dien Bien Social Disease Centre, thanks to CBM’s support with funding travel and accommodation costs. The whole family is relieved when Nhung’s cataract operation is a success.
“I am really happy I can see clearly by both eyes”
Khut has one of the biggest and best smiles you’ve ever seen. He lives with his family in a poor, rural village in Vietnam and his daughter-in-laws help to care for him.
He supports his family by earning income through his small fish farm. During the week he frequently stays at a very small, roughly built wooden hut next to the fish farm – it’s perched on the side of a hill and means he can look after his fish farm and the chickens he keeps there too.
Khut’s son worries about him staying at the fish farm by himself, now that his vision has deteriorated. But Khut says that he needs to be there to care for the fish – and keep the animals safe.
Around 10 years ago, Khut had a cataract operation on his right eye, but now the vision in his left eye has started to deteriorate. He knows how vital good vision is for him to be able remain independent and continue supporting his family.
Thanks to CBM supporters, and our partner hospital in Vietnam, Khut is able to have surgery to remove the cataracts from his left eye. He is so thankful and overjoyed that he can see clearly again.
“I am really thankful for their support so I can get my vision back and I can enjoy the happiness with my grandchildren and my children.”
Pom’s smile is infectious – you wouldn’t know the hardship she’s had to face, being unable to see clearly for over 10 years.
She lives with her extended family in a wooden Tai style house, which looks out over rice paddies. The family survives by raising their own chickens and a pig, growing vegetables and having a dairy cow. They only earn enough to provide food for their family and have been unable to afford treatment to restore Pom’s sight.
Pom is desperate to regain her independence and be able to see and look after her precious grandchildren again. She travels one hour by bike, accompanied by her daughters, to CBM’s partner hospital, to have an operation to remove the cataracts. She’s so excited to regain her vision.
“I really hope that after the operation I can see clearly and I can cook meal for my grandchildren, for my husband, and for my children too. I hope that after the doctor fix my vision, I can be more independent and I so can go to the neighbour’s home.”
After her successful surgery, Pom returns home to her family. Her face beams when she holds and looks down at her new grandson, who is four weeks old. She says she’s looking forward to helping her daughter to care for him, once her eye patch is removed and she can see clearly again.
It’s obvious from the way that Pom’s daughters and husband look out for her that she is a much loved wife, mother and grandmother. Pom faced a long journey to get to the health clinic – and had never travelled that far before – but now, the future is much brighter for her and her family.
Nearly everyone on the planet will experience an eye health issue in their lifetime and more than a billion people worldwide do not have access to eye care services.
Find out more about CBM’s sight-saving work in the world’s poorest places.