There is an old African proverb that “It takes a village…” to raise a child, and that’s true to this day in The Gambia, where we started working with local surgeons and community health agents to treat cataract blindness. And that saying still rings true for Aisatou Bah, a 26 year old nurse we met at Sheikh Zayed Regional Eye Care Center. She lives in a nearby village about 6 kilometers from the hospital along with her family, working hard to build a stronger community.
When Aisatou graduated from university a few years ago, she knew she wanted to improve the healthcare for her friends and neighbors. Growing up in Gambia shaped her perspective as she told us:
“When you look at the setting in the Gambia, you can see there are people who need care.”
Aisatou’s motivations came in part from her family’s experience: several years ago she saw her grandfather suffering from cataract blindness before he passed away. “When I became a nurse,” she said, “I decided to specialize ophthalmology. I knew that when someone has cataracts (they) must be treated.”
Aisatou interviews an elderly resident in The Gambia about her eyesight, using HelpMeSee’s Reach app.
In the past blurred vision from cataracts was considered “just part of old age” in Gambia. Aisatou told us she remembered when people with cataracts would first visit traditional spiritual healers instead of going to the health center of hospital, but of course that was not able to help with their vision loss. Gradually people are becoming more aware now, she says, and patients are coming forward to the health center to receive eye exams.
As word spreads through the community about the treatments available to prevent blindness, Aisatou has noticed an increase of patients to her health center, which now sees about 75 patients a week. Aisatou believes it is her responsibility to help patients with any number of eye care issues.
Aisatou Bah at one of HelpMeSee’s training sessions, alongside her fellow medical practitioners.
At HelpMeSee’s training session, medical professionals like Aisatou learn how to use our smartphone app and surgical reporting system.
When we met Aisatou at a training session, she was eager to learn how HelpMeSee’s tools could be used to improve the health of patients in her clinic. In her experience, HelpMeSee’s use of the surgical kit and face-to-face introductions between patients and community health workers will be a critical improvement. As she told us, HelpMeSee’s approach “makes them more likely to come to the health center to receive care, and also makes them like ambassadors to their various places to tell others about HelpMeSee”
Despite being busy with her family and nursing work, Aisatou told us she is studying to become a cataract surgeon someday, using the training and tools we provided her to make a bigger impact on her neighbors.
"If I have the knowledge I will be able to help my family, to help my friends. I also would like to help other people, because if someone comes to you having problems with the eyes (like cataracts) and you follow-up with the person after the operation and they can see again, you will only see smiles on their faces (and that) makes me feel good."