For six years, Mrs. Oderinde Kafilat suffered from cataract, a debilitating eye disease that nearly led her to a state of irreversible blindness.
But her suffering was not restricted to the pain and agony in her eyes and the realisation that she was gradually losing her sight. At home, she became an object of ridicule. Her in-laws, she noted, tagged her a witch. To them, only a witch would suddenly wake up one morning and start feeling pain in her eyes.
“I just woke up about six years ago and I started feeling some pain in my eyes,” she recalled. “I tried every local means possible to relieve myself of the pain without knowing I was further injuring myself. I was applying traditional treatment because when I went to the hospital, the amount I was told to bring was too outrageous and we couldn’t afford it.
“Some of my husband’s family members even called me a witch because of how the eye problem started. They said only witches would wake up from sleep and develop eye problems.”
Today, however, Mrs. Oderinde’s problems appear to be over. She was among the 45 persons that benefitted from free cataract surgeries conducted by members of the Obafemi Awolowo University Muslim Graduates Association (UNIFEMGA) at the OAU clinic in Ile-Ife. The five-day medical programme was conducted in partnership with the National Council of Nigerian Muslim Organisations (NCNMO) in the United States.
She was led to the venue by her 10-year-old son, Mutiu.
“I thank God that it is all behind me now,” she enthused after the surgery. “I did the operation yesterday and the pain has stopped. Now, I can feel my eyes. I would be going back to the clinic in two days for the post-operation check-up. And I cannot wait to tell those that had laughed at me before that I am fine and that I am not a witch.”
Mr. Gabriel Christopher was diagnosed with cataract two years ago, but he could not do much about the situation. When he was told that he would need about N50,000 for the surgery, he decided he would be managing the problem with local medications. He was one of those that benefitted from the free cataract surgeries conducted by UNIFEMGA.
Said he: “When I first heard about this, I could hardly believe my fortune. Although I knew it was true, I just couldn’t come to terms with the number of those that would benefit from the surgeries. I know how expensive the surgery is. I was diagnosed of cataract two years ago, but based on my financial incapability, I wasn’t able to have the surgery done. I thank the organisers of this medical mission. They have really helped me in a lot of ways. Sight is life. If you can’t see, you are as good as not living. My eye has been operated on, and I am very grateful to UNIFEMGA and NCNMO.”
Cataract has been described as a clouding of the lens in the eye that leads to a decrease in vision.
Wikipedia notes: “Cataracts often develop slowly and can affect one or both eyes. Symptoms may include faded colours, blurry or double vision, halos around light, trouble with bright lights, and trouble seeing at night. This may result in trouble driving, reading, or recognising faces. Poor vision caused by cataracts may also result in an increased risk of falling and depression. Cataracts cause half of all cases of blindness and 33% of visual impairment worldwide.
“Cataracts are most commonly due to aging, but may also occur due to trauma or radiation exposure, be present from birth, or occur following eye surgery for other problems. Risk factors include diabetes, smoking tobacco, prolonged exposure to sunlight, and alcohol. The underlying mechanism involves accumulation of clumps of protein or yellow-brown pigment in the lens that reduces transmission of light to the retina at the back of the eye.”
In Nigeria, over a million people are estimated to be blind while another 3.1 million are believed to be living with one form of visual impairment or the other. A good number of such impairments are caused by cataract. Many patients are not even aware of their condition, especially in the rural areas. Some of those that are aware cannot afford treatment.
Saidat Ibrahim was not diagnosed with cataract, but she also expressed gratitude to the organisers of the medical mission. Her words: “I never knew I was hypertensive and my blood pressure was abnormally high until I came for check-up here. The doctors have been able to place me on some supplements to normalise my blood pressure and my heart condition. They have taught me how to take care of my condition in terms of what to eat and what not to eat and advised me on how to have regular sleep and rest time during the day. I say a big thank you to them because these drugs are drugs that are very expensive and scarce to get. And they gave the drugs to me and to other people free of charge. May God continue to show mercy upon them.”
Besides cataract surgeries, more than a thousand others benefitted from the UNIFEMGA medical mission held between Friday, April 13, and Tuesday, April 16, in Ile-Ife, Osun State.
In his welcome address, UNIFEMGA BoT chairman, Alhaji Rafiu Ebiti, said the free medical programme was an offshoot of the collaboration between the NCNMO and UNIFEMGA during the 2018 reunion of UNIFEMGA in Ile-Ife.
“The partnership is centred on three areas of common interest, health, family matters and education. And I am happy that just about a year after that decision, we have been able to bring it to reality. Although we have before now been involved in several projects in the school, it is the first time we are delving into providing free health care. And with the impact that we have seen, we would ensure that we make this a recurring event. We can’t give enough to our alma mater. We owe how we turned out to be today to the institution. And as a group, we remain committed to our mission to give back as much as we can to the school.”
Dr. Fatai Ilupeju, NCNMO medical team lead, said over a thousand people benefitted from the free medical programme.
“When you plan for events like this, you are sure to get more than the numbers you anticipated, and we were very ready for that. Besides the 45 surgeries, we conducted several free check-ups, general body treatment, dental and ear treatments respectively.
“NCNMO is a body based in the Diaspora and has always been involved with several medical missions overseas and here in Nigeria. Our last mission in Nigeria was done in Isolo, Lagos. It is the first time we are partnering with UNIFEMGA, but we would be doing this again with them and perhaps other groups in the not too distant future. Nothing can replace good health. And there are so many people out there who lack enough resources to care for their health. That is why I want other bodies to join us in bringing succour to our people.”
Chief medical director, LAUTECH Teaching Hospital, and head of the medical mission team, Prof. Akeem Lasisi, said besides those treated during the programme, many others were referred to trusted specialist hospitals.
“We have also made necessary provisions and fully paid for further check-ups on those we treated after the period of the medical outreach elapses. All they only need to do is make themselves available at the designated medical centres in the school that they have been assigned to,” he said.
Vice chancellor of OAU, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, lavished praise on UNIFEMGA and NCNMO, adding that UNIFEMGA has done several laudable projects in the school without external support and funding.
“This is a laudable effort,” he said. “I sincerely appreciate the efforts of UNIFEMGA, NCNMO and every other alumni body towards the school. UNIFEMGA has at several times come to our rescue in the school. Health is an aspect of life some don’t pay attention to, and this gesture would go a long way in making people aware of their health status. This medical mission has brought joy to the faces of the masses and we can’t thank them enough. I also want other alumni to join in uplifting the living condition of our people.”
National president of UNIFEMGA, Abdulwaheed Odeyimka, an engineer, said about 220 patients were screened in preparation for the cataract surgeries.
“Dr. Fatai Ilupeju, who led the NCNMO team, is an anaesthesiologist in Westwood, Massachusetts, which is affiliated with the Boston Medical Centre. They worked alongside UNIFEMGA team, which was led by Prof. Akeem O. Lasisi, consultant otolaryngologist at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, and chief medical director, LAUTECH Teaching Hospital, Osogbo. There were other volunteers providing free medical services to people in Ile- Ife and its environs.
“We are grateful to Allah for making this mission a very successful one. This is not going to be a one-off event. We intend to make this an annual or quarterly event,” he said.
A member of the NCNMO USA five-man team, Ms. Medina Ope, also called on other bodies to join in providing healthcare to the people.
“We all need to come together and give a helping hand. Helping the less privileged is the whole essence of humanity,” she said.