Curing Blindness For The Price Of A Pizza
Education and Advocacy Tinanenji had nine grandchildren, and she couldn’t see any of them.
Once an economic pillar in her community in Malawi (she brewed beer for market, as well as buying and selling fish), Tinanenji's involvement in village life had dropped to near zero in recent years as her vision grew worse and worse from cataracts. Worldwide, 18 million people share Tinanenji’s fate of cataract-related blindness, 90 percent of them in developing countries like Malawi.
By the time Tinanenji was 81, her vision was so poor that she didn’t even feel comfortable walking in the garden behind her house. That was two years ago. In those two short years, Tinanenji went from being a greatly productive member of her family and community to greatly dependent on the help from her busy neighbours and grandchildren for such basic needs as food. “Sometimes I’m going without food the whole day,” Tinanenji said. “Sometimes I eat just once. They have to place the food right in my hands so I can eat it.”
"The cataract surgery that she needed could be performed in just ten minutes for a total cost of only $33 but, until she received international aid, it was unavailable to her."
For Tinanenji, options for treating her cataracts were few. A trip across the border to a health centre in Zambia got her eye drops and eyeglasses which did not help her sight at all. The injustice of it was that her condition was entirely treatable. The cataract surgery that she needed could be performed in just ten minutes for a total cost of only $33 but, until she received international aid, it was unavailable to her.
When Tinanenji did receive her surgery, and finally had the bandages removed from her eyes, her world had permanently changed. She had her independence back, and was able to resume her role as a community and family leader. Preparing to leave the hospital, she commented that she was going home to great-grandchildren that she had lived with but never actually seen before. “I will have to recognize them by their voices,” Tinanenji said.
Of all the responsibilities we bear as residents of the First World, perhaps the single most vital is to share the gift of medicine, medicine that we almost take for granted, with our brothers and sisters around the world. When we weigh the price of a pizza against the miracle of sight for someone like Tinanenji, it is not surprising to see how the scales tip.