Madagascar may be known for its natural landscape filled with lemurs, baobab trees and stunning seashores, but the isolation that leads to this allure also brings many burdens.
More than 22 million people live in Madagascar. Over 75% live below the poverty line. Nearly a third can not read. Risk for a variety of diseases - including malaria - remains high.
When HelpMeSee team members made their first trip to Madagascar, the need for eye care was clear. Most Madagascans live in rural areas requiring a boat trip or a long drive over dirt roads to the nearest town. Meanwhile, the limited number of ophthalmologists - just 2 per million persons - mostly live in cities. Access to quality healthcare is challenging in the few places it does exist.
While launching HelpMeSee's campaign in Madagascar, our 200,000th surgery was Florentine, an older woman from a slum in the capital city of Antananarivo. She lived with her daughter in a modest home painted in faint blues and reds.
Florentine was one of our first patients in Madagascar, and in many ways, her situation reflects the dire challenges most of our patients face. When Florentine went blind, her daughter left work in a local store to spend time caring for her mother. Their main source of income dried up. The impact of blindness almost always extends beyond the patient.
"I was completely dependent on my daughter and others to help cook, to help me move around and even to do the most ordinary things." - Florentine
After her mother received surgery, Florentine's daughter told us "I will be able to return to my shop and financially support my family and mother."
Just days after her surgery, the HelpMeSee team visited Florentine to check up on her progress. We asked about her health and her family.
Her answer? A smile said it all.