IOM Eye Camps Restore Sight for Young and Old

Janaki Fernando, a grade eight student from a tsunami-battered village in the Kalutara North district south of Colombo, was distraught when she realized that her vision was blurred and that she could not properly study for her year-end school exams. A visit to a nearby eye clinic confirmed that she needed to wear spectacles.

Her mother, a single parent, provides for both Janaki and her 8-year-old brother Gayan Pushpakumara from a meagre income earned working as a domestic. “I knew that my mother could not afford a pair of spectacles for me. She has more important priorities like feeding and clothing us,” says Janaki.

Then her 72-year-old grandfather who lives with the family, heard from fellow fishermen about an IOM eye camp to be held in the village temple. “I was screened at the camp and then a few weeks later asked to come for my spectacles,” explains Janaki.

“I can now read the small print in the school text books and that is such a blessing…..my school marks are also much better than previously. My family and I are grateful to IOM for all what they have done. More than anything they helped me to continue my studies successfully….I can now work towards my ambition of becoming a teacher,” she beams, preparing to do her homework.

Janaki is one of the many beneficiaries of an IOM Eye Camp programme funded by the Australian Red Cross. Under the programme, over 100,000 people were screened for sight problems. More than 80,000 beneficiaries were provided with spectacles and around 6,000 were referred to the national eye hospital for further evaluation and management, including cataract surgery and implants.

Clara Perera, a 76-year-old from Katukurunda in the Western province of Sri Lanka, was worried when an ophthalmologist told her that she had to undergo cataract surgery. “I had already undergone a cataract operation in one eye ten years ago. But that was when I was working, accompanying children to school in one of the school buses in the neighbourhood.”

“Even then, it was expensive, especially the medicine. But now I have to depend on my three married daughters and I see how they struggle to cope, to rebuild what they lost during the tsunami. How could I ask them to pay for the operation and replace the spectacles I am already wearing?” she asks.
 
She then heard about IOM’s eye camps from a neighbour who has just undergone a cataract surgery. “The IOM people were very helpful. They helped me right along, from sight screening, to making an appointment with the hospital for the surgery and making sure that the implant was done right. They even provided my medicine initially, which would have been too expensive for me,” she adds.

Clara is now happy to be able to help her daughter and her family, with whom she is living, with their daily chores. Her daughter and son-in-law both work until late in the evening. Before her operation she could not be of much help. “I hated to sit by while everybody else worked hard. I did not want to be a burden to them,” she says.

“According to my religion giving somebody back their eyesight is a meritorious deed. I hope IOM can continue this kind of work for many more years. Now, I feel as if I am doing something worthwhile… as if I am contributing in my own little way,” she says.

To ensure the sustainability of the programme, IOM trained over 600 local health workers including primary eye care workers, ophthalmologic nurses and operating theatre personnel in the early detection and handling of eye ailments, maintaining and sterilizing surgical equipment and assisting in cataract surgery.

Since January 2006 IOM has also donated eye equipment valued at US$125,500 to the eye care units of hospitals in six tsunami-affected districts in Southern and Eastern Sri Lanka, including Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Ampara and Batticaloa.