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 Fighting Community Blindness in Tsavo - 3/17/2014
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As part of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Community Outreach program the Trust dedicates time, support and resources to the marginalised communities living on the borders of the National Parks and Protected Area within the greater Tsavo Conservation Area. 

During the months of January and February 2014 the DSWT was proud to partner with Medical and Educational Aid to Kenya (MEAK) for the first time in organising the Tsavo Conservation Area Eye Mission, a joint community health initiative.   MEAK organises and funds medical and surgical missions in the fields of paediatric cardiac surgery, thoracic surgery, ophthalmology and orthopaedics.  Having already carried out over sixty missions and performing over six thousand surgical procedures, there was a great need for an eye mission to take place within the TCA.

A blind boy from one of the local communities

The core objective of this mission was to combat blindness of local community members within the Trust’s expansive operational area.  Blindness is 10 times more common in Kenya than in the Western World and large numbers of children become blind due to a simple Vitamin A deficiency. As MEAK has experienced ‘being blind means that the usual day to day struggle for subsistence and survival becomes ever more difficult; being blind renders individuals a burden on their families and unable to contribute to their communities.’

A school classroom where the surgery took place

To ensure that the mission was a success, during a 5-day period in January the DSWT’s field manager, James Mbuthia, alongside the Trust’s rangers spread the news that MEAK was offering free solutions for eye problems before helping to conduct a pre-screening exercise with trained MEAK staff, who are able to diagnose the signs of many eye conditions and especially cataract, which is a clouding of the lens inside the eye that leads to a decrease in vision and sometimes blindness.  A total of 3112 patients were screened and treated for various minor eye defects, including adults and children, whilst 120 patients were diagnosed with cataracts needing surgery.

The MEAK team performing the surgery

In a follow-up to the screening, during February 2014 a local school near Kibwezi town was chosen as the location for the surgeries to take place and transformed into a temporary operations room.  The location was chosen due to its central location to the communities the patients were travelling from whilst allowing the surgical team easy access to the DSWT’s Umani Springs lodge where they were accommodated for free during the mission.  The patients previously screened and diagnosed with cataracts converged from all over the area for the doctors from MEAK to conduct the surgery.  All the villages were represented and all of the cataract surgeries conducted were successful with eye sight restored to each community member.

Patients after the cataract operation

The community members were incredibly grateful to MEAK and the DSWT for organizing such an event, which has really transformed lives for many people, some of which were completely blind.  The DSWT is privileged to be part of such a life-changing mission and is excited to be partnering once again with MEAK in helping to make a big difference to the lives of the communities within the Lamu District as part of the Trust’s Saving Habitats initiative.  These remarkable programs are working towards building strong relationships with communities and organisations, working together to protect the lives of the local people, their wildlife and environment.

If you wish to support any of the DSWT’s Community Outreach programs we would be very grateful for any donations which can be made through our website https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/is/donate_now.asp


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