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Tackling Blindness in South Sudan–Preserving and Restoring Sight

Children in Duk, South Sudan. More than three million children under the age of five in Sub Saharan Africa are blind because of vitamin A deficiency.

In Africa, loss of sight not only means a life of darkness. For many adults it means a loss of income and the ability to work, requiring dependence on family members and reducing a family’s overall productivity. Currently more than three million African children under the age of five are blind and an estimated 43 million are threatened by vitamin A deficiency, a leading cause of blindness and vision problems. These children are more susceptible to  life-threatening diseases.

The John Dau Foundation founded the Duk Lost Boys Clinic in 2007 to provide basic medical services to diagnose and treat common illnesses and specific medical disorders indigenous to this region. “When we first started the clinic, the needs were massive and overwhelming; vision and nutrition were low on the list,” said Dr. David Reed, the foundation’s medical director.

But as the years passed, the clinic staff continued to see throngs of blind patients being led on sticks by children or family members. “We realized that you’re not only taking away one life but you’re also needing a guide to walk them around. In terms of tribal attacks, these people are such easy victims because they have no chance to escape.”

Patient recovering from eye surgery at the Duk Lost Boys Clinic.

Preventing blindness has moved to the forefront of the clinic’s efforts. Clinic staff now regularly distribute vitamin A supplements to villages. For the first time last year, the clinic also incorporated surgical procedures to treat  vision-related ailments such as cataracts and glaucoma. In a span of a few days, a team of surgeons was able to perform more than 300 surgeries, restoring sight to patients as young as two years.  The clinic plans to continue with prevention efforts to distribute vitamin A in villages in addition to restoring lost sight through simple surgical procedures with teams of visiting doctors from the United States.

Ultimately, Dr. Reed says, the goal is to train Sudanese to perform the operations themselves, but achieving that goal is several years away. In the meantime, the Foundation has formed a partnership with Moran Eye Center in Salt Lake City. “They’ve committed to help for five years to look at surgical and non-surgical methods to protect vision. The Center will send surgeons to South Sudan again next year to perform several hundred operations,” he said.

Learn more about how Aid for Africa members are working to provide health services, train health workers, and eradicate disease in Sub Saharan Africa.