Patients at St Paul's Mission Hospital, Nchelenge, Luapula Province recover from sight restoring surgery.
"Blindness in Zambia has so much more of an impact than in a developed country, said Hammond. "Guide dogs allow a certain amount of independence to the visually impaired, beeping crossings tell you when it is safe to walk across the road, and Braille is taught. In Zambia, to lose your sight is to lose independence and income. You simply cannot fish if you cannot see your nets. You must rely on relatives for food, to guide you to the toilet, to bring your shopping. Behind sightless eyes there is a kind of dark prison."
The causes of eye disease vary, but include poor diet, hygiene and lack of access to medicine or treatment. The community-based projects that make up the initiative are organised in order to target all the contributing factors holistically. A new 30-bed eye ward at St Paul''s Mission Hospital in Nchelenge provides surgery and treatment, while the hospital is also responsible for training health centre staff and volunteer sight ambassadors, who will share all kinds of information about health and hygiene with friends and family. Staff have also helped some traditional healers learn about how some of their practices can be harmful, and instead to dispense medicines such as tetracycline.
"The team from St Paul's eye hospital, often departing at five o'clock in the morning, drove more than four hours each way to do screening sessions. Everyday dozens would arrive blind and return home the following day able to see. Dr Consity Mwale is the miracle worker. He is the only ophthalmologist to service a region with a population of over one million. In sparsely populated Zambia,that is a big area. He has an amazing job – he gives people back their sight, but he is frustrated. So many of his patients, he explains, come to him too late.
They are already blind. The facilities are not yet there for him to reach as many individuals as he would like early enough. He says to me that the difference is in my country people drive to cataract surgery and read a magazine in the waiting room.
Robin witnessed Edward Koni regaining his sight as part of the RISE project, a collection of photos and stories that celebrates hope in the midst of adversity. For more information about RISE and to see more of the photos captured on this project, please click here.
"His patients are guided into the operating room as they have been guided everywhere for months, sometimes years. Things are getting slowly better but for an educated man who sees too many of his people needlessly suffering, it is not happening fast enough."
Hammond saw people of all ages arrive on foot, by bicycle and by boat to squint at eye charts and have torches shone in their eyes at health centres across the province, where screenings are organised once a month for rural communities.The news was spreading. In villages and towns on the other side of the nearby border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, people had heard of the doctors who could restore sight. Some of them came too to be offered this life-changing opportunity.