By Stephanie Vizi, Help Lesotho Intern

Forty-one grandparents have restored vision thanks to free cataract surgery in Lesotho.

With over 300,000 children left orphaned by AIDS in Lesotho, grandmothers have filled the role of parents and guardians and are essential to the survival of the tiny mountain kingdom’s next generation of young people. Help Lesotho’s Grandmother Support Program provides relief and support to grandmothers and their partners to build hope and resilience while strengthening their families and improving the lives of the vulnerable children and orphans in their care.

Beneficiaries from Help Lesotho’s Grandmother Support Program traveled to Maluti Adventist Hospital in Mapoteng, Lesotho from rural villages to receive pro bono cataract surgery funded by individual Canadian donors and HelpAge International.

From Cataract to Crystal Clear

At Maluti Adventist hospital, surgery begins with a prayer under the care of Dr. Carlos Gutierrez, a medical missionary from Texas, U.S.A, who explained a cataract is the clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil. Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 40 and are the principal cause of blindness in the world.

In less than 30 minutes the milky cataract is extracted and replaced with a crystal clear artificial lens to restore vision. Initially patients experience blurred vision and are instructed to rest for 24 hours.

Photo Credit: Help Lesotho
Photo Credit: Help Lesotho

At the post-surgery checkup, the faces of a group of grannies from the mountainous district of Thaba Tseka, were all smiles and laugh lines under their eye patches and gauze. They shared that they were terrified to accept the offer of surgery, but after receiving education and counselling sessions from Help Lesotho staff, they are so glad they did. “It’s like I’m dreaming,” gushed Mamajoale Makajane, 79.

Dr. Gutierrez checked each patient for any complications and said their eyes will be completely healed in three to four weeks, but most will experience nearly instantaneous improved vision.
Mamolumo Kordosa, 85, said she was struggling to care for a small grandchild prior to surgery, “I was so challenged. I couldn’t see to fetch water or to check if the food was cooked.”

Support for the Forgotten

In the rural highlands of Lesotho, inhabitants are exposed to harsh weather conditions, including strong winds, dust and cold temperatures and most people cook with firewood in huts filled with smoke. Dr. Gutierrez said many eye problems can be attributed to these conditions.
The patients shared that they often feel helpless and alone. “We live in the mountains, we are used to being ignored and stricken by poverty. For someone to take us seriously – we are so grateful. We feel so forgotten,” explained Junea Motselekatse, 76.

Earlier this year, Help Lesotho organized eye examinations for 250 older persons. This took place in the four areas where Help Lesotho operates: Hlotse, Pitseng, Butha Buthe and Thaba Tseka and it was determined that 68 patients needed surgery, 25 were given eye drops, and 157 needed either reading glasses or spectacles.

Some of the 68 opted out of surgery due to health concerns or discouragement from family members. Some Basotho believe myths about modern health care in Lesotho, for example that death is inevitable during surgery or the doctor will remove their eyeballs and scrub them until they become blind. There is always risk with surgery especially in the elderly, but cataract surgery is most often low risk and involves only a local anesthetic.

Mahau Mputsoe, 75, a grandfather from Thaba Tseka, was overcome by emotion as he expressed his gratitude, “I want to cry, I’m so thankful; I don’t know what to say. We knew we had eye problems, but we couldn’t do anything about them.”

The Conversation

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