Her teachers attested to the fact that she is a brilliant girl and they were all sad when she lost her sight. Fifteen-year old Mariam Mudasiru of Ataoja High School, Osogbo, Osun State has since resigned herself to losing her sight and has started preaching to other children with disability not to lose hope.
“It happened when I was in primary school,” she said. “We were asked to clear the weeds in the school premises. In the process, sand got into my eyes and I cleaned it up. I didn’t take it seriously and I didn’t tell my parents though it was hurting me. Several years after, the pain became very severe. When I got to secondary school, it got worse. Yet, I didn’t tell anyone.”
Years later, she could no longer see in one eye and had problems seeing out of the second one. Her teachers noticed the anomaly and sent for her parents.
“I was taken to hospital and the doctor said I need surgery. But we couldn’t go for the surgery. I kept managing one eye. We were warned that I will become totally blind if the surgery is not done on time,” she said.
Her parents did all they could to prevent her from going blind but without the money for the necessary surgeries, there was little they could actually do.
The case of Sesan Akinola, a 6-year-old boy who also lost sight in both eyes was not very different from Mariam’s. He was playing with his friends and one of them poured sand in his eyes.
His father, an old farmer did not have the money for the surgery.
“They told us that Sesan needs operation but I don’t have money. I wish to treat him but I’m helpless,” he said.
Following this unfortunate developments, little Sesan and Mariam became potential members of the league of Persons with Disability (PWD) in Nigeria.
The Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD) in Nigeria has 25million members. Considering the cases of these helpless children, if care is not taken, the number could keep rising.
A social service specialist, Mrs Akintunde Oluwatoyin said many children cause serious harm to their eyes while playing with friends and that majority of them would not inform their parents unless the pain becomes unbearable.
Akintunde who is the Programme Officer of Community Advancement for Self Reliance (CAI4SR), a non profit and nongovernmental organization in Osogbo said eye problems in many children are detected when they are physically seen and that the situation would have become worse at that stage.
She said “When children played in school or at home, they do a lot of dangerous things to their eyes and until the problems become physically seen, many parents wouldn’t know that something is wrong with the eyes of their children. Unfortunately, at the point that the problem would have been so bad.”
As part of moves to detect eye problems among the school pupils and prevent childhood blindness, a non-profit organization, ChristoffelBlinden Mission (CBM UK) under the flagship programme of Standard Chartered Bank, Seeing is Believing (SiB) in partnership with CAI4SR has conducted eye screening for 159,487 school pupils in Osun. The CBM’s Cluster Coordinator for the project, Mr Clement Obayi said the programme is going on in 10 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The states include Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Nasarawa, Plateau, Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Akwa-Ibom and Cross-Rivers.
In Osun, Oyo and Ogun representing the South-West cluster, 317,364 pupils were screened for eye problems. Among these pupils, 2,928 needed spectacles and the eyeglasses were provided free. Sesan and Mariam were among 620 children in the South-West cluster who needed surgeries and were operated on free at the University College Hospital in Ibadan.
Obayi said the surgeries were successful and that all the children have regained their sight. He explained that the exercise was aimed at preventing avoidable blindness among school pupils, saying that early detection is crucial to achieving necessary corrections. Obayi lauded Osun state government for providing an enabling environment for the programme in the state. He also commended CAI4SR for the successes that the programme recorded in Osun state.
The Permanent Secretary, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Alhaji Fatai Kolawole while commending CBM said the screening has assisted in early detection of eye defects and other challenges that could affect the vision of the pupils. He noted that pupils with good vision would be able to learn, become educated and achieve their full potentials in life. He commended CAI4SR and SIB for the gesture and assured them of the full support of the state government and SUBEB.
He also expressed joy that teachers in the state were also trained on ways to detect eye problems in pupils as a sustainability strategy when the programme ends.
Mariam’s mother, Mrs Mudasiru and Sesan’s father, Pa Akinola said they thought their children had become permanently disabled and that they never imagined that the they could see again.
The Executive Director of CAI4SR, who is the Programme Coordinator of SiB, Mrs Eni Ayeni said in order to ensure prompt eye treatment in Osun State, low vision devices worth 10 million Naira were provided for the State Specialist hospital Asubiaro in Osogbo and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Hospital Ipetumodu which are the two focal secondary facilities for the project in the state.
She said, “In this programme, we have trained over 551 teachers across elementary and middle schools, 110 traditional birth attendants (TBA), 55 general nurses and mid-wives and 221 Community Health Extension Workers on child eye health across the 30 local government areas. We also trained three optometrist and three ophthalmic nurses on Low Vision and child eye health. We also ensured the inclusion of eye health in the harmonized strategic health plan of the Ministry of Health.”
“By January 2020, the project will come to an end. I wish it continues because there are many children in the hard to reach communities in the state that we are yet to reach. Most of the serious cases are hidden in such communities. I call on the state government, well-to-do members of society and donors to support this project. CAI4SR has the capacity to implement more of such projects to other states. SiB project is a project to be replicated,” Ayeni said.