Refugee Hospital Conducts its First ever Congenital Cataracts Surgery

Kakuma Refugee camp: “Equally prison and exile” © Axel Fassio

Kakuma Refugee camp is located 120 kilometers from Lodwar town - a three-hour drive on the rough terrain that connects the two destinations. As you arrive at the camp you see that it is a densely populated ‘small town’ of thatched roof huts, blue labelled UNHCR tents and mud houses. “Equally prison and exile”, describes it youthful refugee Mabil Guek from South Sudan to me. “We are not allowed to move freely outside the area, and we can’t seek for medical assistance, education or employment outside the camp”, he adds. This confinement automatically renders refugees’ dependent on aid. Since several years, Johanniter together with its local partner AICHM are managing different health services within the camp and around it; for example ophthalmological treatment.

Shortly before her eye surgery, Fardosa is checked by Clinic Officer Bildad Okwama. ©James Okongo

Here at the camp I met two Somali refugee children called Fardosa Mohammed and Ahmed Amin Abdi who were slowly going blind. They were both born with congenital cataract; a condition that clouds the lens of the eye thus blocking ones’ vision and if not corrected early enough leads to permanent blindness. Fardosa’s mum told me that her daughter had a problem noticing objects and faces and that she noted it when she was three years old. “I could send her to get my phone in the house, but she couldn’t see it. Instead she went on to ask me where it was, despite the fact that it was just placed on the table right next to her.” This prompted her mother, a refugee in Kakuma, to seek for medical assistance at the Kakuma General hospital where she was asked to bring her back once she attained the age of five.

Filled With Joy After Surgery

Fardosa with her mother after the successful surgery on her right eye. © J. Okongo

I first met Fardosa a day just before the surgery, when she had been brought for screening. I realized that she had a problem noticing neither me nor the pen that I was dangling right on her face. I could feel her pain, the pain of a girl not being able to see. As I continued chatting with her, I kept on wondering how she would be able to perform her daily life activities, such as reading, writing, telling time, or even playing with other kids without sight. She said that she didn’t want to live in the kind of pain and suffering that she’s lived through. She went ahead to mention to me that she would be so grateful to anyone who can rescue her vision.

The two-year wait period was long and painful, but on 13 December 2017, Dr. Alfred Chelimo and Clinical Officer Bildad Okwama conducted a successful surgery on her right eye, awaiting the second operation four weeks after the first one on the left eye. On 14 December, Fardosa had regained full sight on her left eye when the doctors removed the bandage that had been used to cover it after the surgery. Immediately after the bandage was removed, I saw her filled with joy, the joy of being able to see clearly for the first time in her lifetime. She was truly fascinated and when I dangled my pen once again on her face, I could see her following it smiling.

Historical Moment at the Camp

Okwama, a senior Clinical Officer at the health facility said that the surgical operations of the two were a historical moment at the camp, mentioning that, “this is the first operation of its kind to be conducted at the Kakuma Refugee camp since its inception.” The hospitals at the camp do not have the capacity to conduct major surgeries, thus needy refugees and by extension locals have often been referred to health facilities especially in Nairobi and beyond. Thanks to the support, which is financed by German Federal  Foreign Office, people in Kakuma now can be treated nearby their homes.

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