Post by Emily Toubali, HKI’s Program Manager of Neglected Tropical Disease Control. Photos by Emily Toubali and Aryc Mosher.
Amina Nouhou lived for over 20 years with the searing pain of trichiasis, the final stage of the blinding disease of trachoma. Each time she blinked, the eyelashes of her left eye scraped her cornea. I cannot even begin to imagine the extreme discomfort she silently endured each day. She woke up, cleaned her house, and cooked meals for her family, in constant suffering from this excruciating condition.
I met Amina one hot, dusty morning in Niger at a surgical camp HKI and the Ministry of Health had set up to perform eyelid surgery to reverse the ravages of trichiasis. Amina arrived very early in the morning, accompanied by her son. I introduced myself to her and told her my husband is Nigerien, and his first name was her last name. She immediately responded that I must be her mother since, in the Hausa culture, a father’s first name is passed along to his children as their last name. We were officially bonded.
As she waited patiently for her surgery, I asked her if she was afraid. She said she had been eagerly waiting for this moment for many years and was so happy that the big day had finally arrived. In my travels across Mali and Niger, I have met many women like my new “daughter” who dream of having the straightforward surgery that can preserve their precious sight and reduce their daily debilitating pain. I was honored and touched to be part of the day when Amina’s dream finally became a reality.
Sadly, Amina’s story is all too common. Women are almost twice as likely as men to be affected by trichaisis. Today, there are 320 million people at risk of trachoma infection in the developing world, and urgent action is needed. HKI implements the SAFE strategy – Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial Cleanliness, Environmental Improvement – to control the disease. In two countries where HKI works – Mali and Niger – trachoma is on track to be eliminated by 2015!
I hope these countries serve as examples to demonstrate that the SAFE strategy works. We can eliminate trachoma so that women like Amina no longer have to suffer or go blind needlessly.
The photographs below provide images of activities in Mali and Niger.