Danita Topcagic

Danita Topcagic (Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organization - BERDO): Danita was raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but moved to the United States with her family at the age of fourteen as a refugee. She is passionate about humanitarian work and earned her BA in international relations from University of Missouri – Columbia. Danita received her MA in global finance, trade and economic integration with a focus in international development from University of Denver.

Eye-exams and cataract surgeries

14 Jul

For all pictures visit:

After conducting some observations of BERDO, it came to my attention that there were no medical records for the students admitted to BERDO’s Blind School. I wanted to find out if there are any treatments that could improve the sight for these students but the only diagnoses were provided by the village doctors since most of them came from villages. Therefore, I urged BERDO to let me take students for a proper eye-exam and luckily the executive director has friends at the National Institute of Ophthalmology (NIO) in Dhaka who were eager to help.

Doctors and staff at National Institute of Ophthalmology perform eye-exams for all students at BERDO.

Upon the visit to NIO, it was decided that three out of seven BERDO’s students qualify for cataract surgery which could improve their vision up to 20 percent. This was great news for them because it gives them a possibility for navigational vision which would allow them to move around more freely. Reasons why BERDO has not provided full eye-exams for the students are due to lack of financial resources and personnel to assist them to the hospital. Of course I jumped at this opportunity and spent days at the NIO with the students and wonderful doctors and staff who agreed to provide free cataract surgeries, including all medicine prior and post surgery.

The costs per surgery, including the medicine and hospital stay, are about $25-$30 per student which is a price most of them cannot afford even though it means having the opportunity for a better life and more possibilities. It is estimated that 3,734,700 people are either blind or have a low vision (Source: Orbis), and since 40 percent of the population lives below national poverty lines, they are not able to afford these medical expenses. As I said before, around 80 percent of population lives in the rural areas where medical facilities and services are
limited, such that only 20 percent of ophthalmologists work in rural areas. That means, 125 out 626 ophthalmologists in Bangladesh serve the rural population, which is estimated to be around 115 million people (source: Orbis).

The executive director and the teacher explain the possible outcomes to the students.

Fortunately for the students at BERDO, their costs were covered by NIO and the students were psyched to learn they will have free cataract surgeries. Prior to surgery, the executive director explained to the students the possible outcomes hoping to prepare them in case there were no improvements in their vision. However, these students are still children and it is hard for them to grasp the situation fully and this became quite clear to me after one student had no
improvement at all. His spirits sank low, and I wondered if I had done more harm than good. Back at the school, everyone was waiting for our return and the students tell me that they are happy that two of their friends will be able to see better. I was somewhat relieved to see Saiful (the student with no improvement) interact with students in much better spirits and he proved to be much stronger than I thought. Thanks to support of his friends at the school, I have even caught a smile on his face that same day.

Thanks to Dr. Syed Maruf Ali, the director of NIO, all three surgeries were provided free of cost and I was allowed a special visitors pass during surgeries.

No doubt these children are the lucky ones to have the access to such services, and I am still awe-struck how easy and fast all of this happened. Just last week I was contemplating where to take these students for an eye-exam and today they are already recovering from surgery. I am hopeful that in the near future many more students will have the same opportunity because there are about 400 non-governmental organizations working in Bangladesh on disability issues, most of which are focused on blind and visually impaired persons. Together they are raising awareness of the need to provide services to these people and there is much talk about what should be done next. I do think that International Community should review their approach, especially when it comes to fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals, because they should focus on the disabled persons more since these people are the poorest in the community. But for now, the disabled persons in Bangladesh will have to rely on the NGO’s and government institutions which can only do so much.

Posted By Danita Topcagic

Posted Jul 14th, 2008


  • sabina besic

    July 14, 2008


    I am so proud of you sis!!!


  • Mohammod Irfan

    July 14, 2008


    Very useful work! Thanks for presenting the necessary statistic to help us understand this issue in the right perspective.

    Best of luck with BERDO students.


  • alan moorer

    July 14, 2008


    Congratulations. I am one who believes that big talk and policy talk and plans to save the world are wonderful, but what really counts is helping someONE. (My father educated two Blacks. We were not rich, but he hired them for construction work and such, and would let them off with pay if they were in class or studying; he also paid their tuition and books. He used to say that liberals think all you have to do is have the right opinions, ideas, and attitude; whereas they seldom did anything for anyone.) So I have a deep regard for people who actually help someONE, not those who simply hold the proper opinions.
    I am proud of you and think of you often. Do good. Take care of your fine self.

  • Tait Robinson

    July 17, 2008


    First off djanita, sorry i’ve been outta the blog-comment loop lately….between travel, sickness and rain (rain = no internet access), i haven’t been able to keep up. Thanks for your comments to my comments in the other blog post, and sorry i didn’t get back to you on them!

    Anyhow, reading what you did to procure resources, facilities, and treatment to really make a difference – or attempt to make a difference, i think that’s really the key, that you tried and created an opportunity – in these kids lives to give them a chance for better sight is impressive and i think you should be very proud. And don’t be surprised if Saiful, though sad that nothing improved for him today, looks back on it and on you in the weeks or years ahead with fondness because of your time, effort and intentions on his behalf.

    Though in some ways its a double-edged sword, and sometimes i (maybe you too, i dunno) may at times feel bad for some of the pride i take in certain thigns i do on behalf of others even though they don’t always work out for everyone, i think for people like us who voluntarily put ourselves in these situations and in these environments its very important to welcome the successes we do have….because too often they’re few and far between. maybe that’s a shallow justification, but i hope not.

    and i really agree with Dr. Moorer, that what really counts is helping someONE. and even if not everyone gets the desired outcome, the intent and the process usually isn’t all for naught, for them or for you.

    in any event, keep up the good work, you’re doing great stuff and i keep us posted on everything going on!

  • Danita

    July 20, 2008


    it is always a pleasure to hear from you and I am thrilled to see your comments on this page. I would like to meet your father as he sounds like a true humanitarian doing what is within his means to help someone in need. I think the majority of people think social justice issues need to be handled on a national or international level and they feel it is not within their means to help. But every single one of us can do something which doesn’t take so much from our time and our life but can make a huge difference in someone else’s life. Even if it is volunteering at a senior home.
    Thanks for writing, and I hope you are well.
    Great to hear from you.

  • Brian

    July 27, 2008


    I echo Sabina, I am so very proud of you! I am also extremely happy for the children who now have a better capacity to view the world and all its beauties. I am smiling for them 🙂

Enter your Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *