By Dramadri Federick
Gloria Laker Aciro-ADIIKI
Limited access to eye care services most often prevents persons with eye complications from accessing proper medical attention in Uganda’s struggling economy.
However, a number of times non-governmental organizations, the corporate entity, charity and visiting medical professions a number of times organize health camps in partnership with the Ugandan government to offer free medical care, Although this is not constant, it gives hope to many.
In one of the health camps in the West Nile City of Arua, in the last eye treatment camp in West Nile, about 1000 persons with visual impairment registered in the districts of Arua, Terego and Arua city. Here they wait for opportunities from non-governmental Organizations for eye checkups. The checkups are often organized by other partners, especially during medical camps which come once in a year especially during the times of observing the International day of the White Cane or Persons with Disability day.
Isaiah Maburuk is a South Sudanese refugee in Ofua settlement in Terego district. Maburuk is one of the few lucky eye patients who got an opportunity to start seeing after 27 years of blindness.
He confessed that without money for treatment, it has been a hard moment in his life as he visited several facilities for free operations right from South Sudan up to Uganda and all these were unsuccessful.
“When I was in South Sudan I went to several health facilities including traditional herbalists to search for medicines for my eye but all in vain, I stayed without sight for 27years.
Due to the war in South Sudan we were brought to Uganda, I got a chance to come for a medical camp organized by doctors with Africa CUAMM on 15th of May 2021 in Omugo health center four under Terego District where operations were done and upto date I don’t have any challenge with vision.’’ Maburuk told Dramadri.
Linda Alangi the president of Lions Club Arua reveals that in their experiences among the communities many of the visually impaired Persons do not have access to health care services.
“ In several outreach programs we have been going to the community and the cry is access to services as most of the services are paid for and with the corona pandemic things are hard people are economically down so majority of the people live in poverty. It is until a free service is brought like this when you see people coming in large numbers because they know it’s free’’ Alangi Linda narrates
Dr. Amos Natirombo an Eye Specialist who started the operations in Arua Regional Referral Hospital Eye clinic in 2004 explains that poor health seeking behavior among community members 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’s 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.’’
In 2021, Doctors with Africa and her core partners operated through surgeries. 217 persons with visual impairment and that of these 67 were Nationals and the 150 were Refugees drawn from Tika,Eden, Imvepi, Omugo and Ocea clusters and several others whose data was not revealed received eyeglasses and others with foldable white canes to support them .
Juliet Lutomya, the Programs Manager Doctors with Africa CUAMM says they have almost achieved their vision in the greater Arua of uniting the persons with disabilities with the communities.
“As CUAMM we are conducting outreaches we have conducted outreaches in the greater Arua district covering districts of Madi Okollo, Terego, Arua and the Arua City with follows on treatment, giving of spectacles and surgical camps.’’ Lutomya said
Dr. Amos highlights that most of the Eye complications are due to diseases and others are resulting from other medical conditions.
“ Most of the interference with vision are from uncorrected refractive errors that is commonly called long or short sightedness, and the common cause of blindness in west Nile is Cataract constituting over 50% and all these can be reversed, river blindness commonly in Zombo, Madi Okollo, Maracha, Arua and Terego’’
Many persons with visual impairments still believe consuming Red pepper is the only cheapest cure for any eye complications. It is from this point that several people in west Nile continue to eat exorbitantly the red pepper which has not helped them resulting in a continuous increase in the number of the blind persons in the region.
Cosmas Ayikobua the secretary community services who doubles as the district Vice Chairperson of Arua district says once this belief continues to remain among members of the community cases of blindness will continue to increase.
‘’This has been another cause of the poor health seeking practices as people feel they have the medicines and yet none has gotten cured by the red pepper. We need to advocate for more funding for the community services department so that we have services like sensitization against this kind of myths’’. Ayikobua urged.
According to the Uganda national corporation template 2019 report, persons with disabilities constitute 12.4% of the entire population of Uganda and visual impairment accounts for the biggest form of disability contributing 4.5%of the national population. The report further states that the number of people getting blind increases every day.
Dramadri Federick is a trained multimedia investigative and Humanitarian Journalist based in Arua City. He works with Radio Pacis.