The Gift of Sight for Bali’s Blind

By Mikey H.

For The Bali Times

Two-year-old Komang Galung Agustini from Manggis, Bali, was born cataract blind and faced a dark future, with no prospect of ever seeing her mother, let alone getting married or being able to perform even the simplest tasks to earn money.

She would have been a burden on society, having to be looked after by family members who themselves can ill afford not to work.

Then some kind of miracle happened: she was spotted by a team from John Fawcett’s Australian aid foundation, YKI, who were performing their regular village eye screening program in conjunction with the Bali Health Department.

The team identified her as being cataract blind and referred her to their free surgery program. A few weeks later, after a simple 20-minute operation provided at no cost to Komang’s family, she now can look forward to a normal life and a chance to appreciate the beauty that is Bali.

Indonesia has a poor record of treatment of the 3.5 million cataract blind people throughout the country, most living in some of the poorest areas but whom can be cured with a simple operation costing around US$50.

The one province in Indonesia that is ahead of the rest is Bali. Since 1991 the island’s Health Department has joined with an NGO to achieve high volumes of cataract surgery for the poor, where the bulk of the blind backlog is found.

Recent agreements between the Australian and Bali governments have set in motion the construction of a modern eye facility that will open in late 2007. With two outreach mobile units, cataract surgery can be taken to isolated areas where the poor are concentrated.

This new base hospital and outreach capacity will push Bali into the forefront of eradication of cataract blindness, and ensure that Bali does reach Vision 2020, the worldwide goal set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of eliminating avoidable blindness in the next 13 years.

The current governor of Bali, Dewa Beratha, has supported the earlier work and vision of Dr. Ida Bagus Mantra, the governor who initiated the concept of combining government resources with an NGO to support and solve this serious social problem. The WHO says that when blindness exceeds 1 percent it no longer simply a medical problem but becomes a social problem and Indonesia has a blindness rate of 1.5-1.7 percent, a figure similar to parts of Africa.

By using provincial funding with international funds, and with the support of an NGO based in Bali, Bali could be the only province in Indonesia to reach the 2020 target. The next few years will be critical in this development in blindness eradication, and other provinces are looking closely at the Bali model, with a view to adopting similar partnerships to solve their problems in cataract blindness.

The writer is press officer for the John Fawcett Foundation.

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