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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.
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).
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.
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