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Back into the light

Focal area: Health
Project area: Borena
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When Zewude Mehamed’s sight became cloudy two years ago – as if an ever-thickening mist were gath­ering before her eyes – then she knew what it was about. “I was terribly afraid that the same would hap­pen to me as to my husband.” Zewude is in her late sixties, her face and thin hands are covered with wrinkles. She has taken care of her husband for six years. He went blind in both eyes as the result of an illness which older people above all have to struggle with all over the world: cataracts.

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Cataracts are responsible worldwide for nearly half of all cases of blindness. Alongside the bac-terial infection trachoma, it is the most common cause of sight loss in Ethiopia. Today cataracts can be treated in a routine operation. Yet in many African states there is a lack of medical staff: statistically one eye doctor in Africa is responsible for a million people, compared to around 13,000 in Germany. The great majority of Ethiopian eye doctors practise in Addis Ababa. That makes them unreachable for most people. The journey is too long, and transport, accom­modation in the city and the cost of treatment is too expensive.

Several times a year Menschen für Menschen therefore organises free operations. They are carried out by trained eye doctors like 43-year-old Fekadu Kassahun. He actually works in a hospital in the capital and travels nearly 600 kilometres to the Borena project area to carry out his mission. He will stay for a week and operate on up to 25 patients a day. Menschen für Menschen pays him, and the two nurses who travel with him, a daily rate, as well as covering the cost of lenses and the necessary medical materials, such as needles, cotton wool and disinfectants. The government and the hospital pay for transport and accommodation.

 

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Health

In rural Ethiopia there is a lack of adequate primary health care and well-trained professional staff. If people become ill, they often have to walk for days to get to a doctor or a hospital. For many, medical help is not available at all. We equip rural health centres with materials, give people advice on questions around health care and family planning and explain about HIV. We also train medical staff, organise vaccination campaigns and provide operations – for example, for cataracts.

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The charity also helped Zewude’s husband with the operation. “But when things finally went better for him, it started on me,” says Zewude. Although at the beginning she could still live at home, after a while she became almost completely blind and had to move in with her son Ali and his family. In spite of having got his sight back, her husband didn’t manage to take care of her on his own.

“We take care of everything,” reports Ali. While his wife gives her mother-in-law a hand with everyday things, washes and cooks for everyone, Ali tills his one-and-a-half-hectare field. The meagre harvest of wheat, Teff and beans has to do for his family of four and his parents. When he has to buy something, Ali works as a day labourer and earns between 1.5 and three euros a day. “The pressure weighs heavily on me,” admits the 38-year-old.

Through an invitation at the market he learned that the foundation was once again offering operations for cataracts. “I ran home at once and told my mother.” Together they took on the difficult journey to the proj­ect headquarters in Mekane Selam. “I’m frightened of the injections, but I want to see the treatment through,” says Zuwede. Like the other patients, she sits in front of the treatment room on a wooden bench, her hair tied out of her face with a plastic bag for the operation. “My husband and other people I know can see again. It must work for me as well,” she says confidently. A little later she is called.

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The brothers Lakew und Abiye Ganfur also had the cataract surgery and took us with them on their emotional journey back to light.
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The treatment only takes twenty minutes, as Fekadu removes the cataract in Zewude’s left eye and inserts an artificial lens. The next morning the eye bandage is already taken off and she can see again. “To see how happy people are at this moment gives me great joy,” says Fekadu. Three days later he will also operate on Zuwede’s other eye. Then there is a good chance that she will be able to fulfil her greatest wish: to go back to her husband and take care of herself independently.

The Menschen für Menschen Foundation - Karlheinz Böhms Ethiopia Aid is a public foundation under civil law. It is registered with the Munich tax office under the tax number 143/235/72144 and was last exempted from corporation and trade tax by decision of 11th June 2018 for the promotion of tax-privileged purposes and thus recognised as a non-profit organisation.