According to the Himalayan Cataract Project, the estimated overall burden of blindness in Ethiopia includes 1.6 million blind people and 3.6 million people with low vision, with cataract as the most common cause of both. There are approximately 130 ophthalmologists in Ethiopia, with the majority in the capital city of Addis Ababa.

By Jason Beaubien (NPR’s Goats and Soda) |

The blind have descended in droves on the Bisidimo Hospital in Eastern Ethiopia.

The Himalayan Cataract Project is hosting a mass cataract surgery campaign at the medical compound that used to be a leper colony. For one week a team from the nonprofit has set up seven operating tables in four operating rooms and they’re offering free cataract surgery to anyone who needs it.

On the first day of the campaign it’s clear that the need is great.

“We have like 700 or 800 patients already in the compound and many more appointed for tomorrow and the day after and the day after that,” says Teketel Mathiwos, the Ethiopian program coordinator for the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP).

People hoping to get their sight restored are jammed into the compound’s main courtyard. Others spill out of an office where optometrists are prepping patients for surgery. The line to get into the actual operating theater extends all the way out of the building, up along a covered walkway and then loops around the corner of another medical building. More still are standing outside the hospital gates.

Mathiwos says some patients may have to wait a day or two for the procedure.

“They have tents here,” Mathiwos says. “We give them the food to eat and we try to take care of them as best as we can.”

Some of the patients at the Bisidimo Hospital have only one milky eye. Others are blind in both eyes.

Continue reading this story at NPR
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