Project to restore sight in Zimbabwe marks halfway point

International disability charity, CBM UK, is marking the halfway point in its Light Up Lives campaign, which has so far performed nearly 1000 cataract surgeries in Zimbabwe

A sight saving operation is being performed by a clinician in blue scrubs. The eye that is being operated on can be seen from above
CBM UK/Thabani
Disability charity, CBM UK, has carried out nearly 1000 cataract surgeries in Zimbabwe, as it marks the halfway point of its Light Up Lives campaign.

The charity raised £1.2 million for the Light up Lives project in 2021, an amount that was matched by the Government through the UK Aid Match scheme.

It is hoped that by the end of the three-year project, CBM UK will have helped more than 44,000 adults with a variety of eye conditions.

CBM UK has been working with Harare-based NGO, Help Age Zimbabwe, in the country.

Worldwide, 75% of all blindness is avoidable, the charity has noted.

Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world. CBM’s Light up Lives project is taking place in the country’s Midlands Province, which has two ophthalmologists and 22 ophthalmic nurses for a population of more than 1.6 million people.

The project has so far trained over 1000 eye health workers, who are now identifying adults with eye health problems and referring them for treatment.

Funds are also being used to improve hospital infrastructures across all eight district hospitals in Midlands Province, including providing essential new equipment and glasses to support people with low vision.

CBM is also partnering with local organisations in order to strengthen eye health systems and ensure maximum long-term benefit.

Real world impact

One of those treated as part of the project is Aquila, a self-employed clothes designer, who would regularly create clothes for the children at her church as well as donating clothing to the less privileged.

Aquila donated her sewing machine when she lost her sight, thinking it was permanent – but with treatment, her sight was restored.

“When they took off the bandage, I screamed,” she said. “I was very excited. I don’t know how to put it. I don’t know how to thank you guys. You don’t know what it means; it’s changed our lives.”

A female dressmaker, Aquila, holds out a red and orange cloth she designed and created on returning to work after her cataract surgery
CBM UK/Thabani
Dressmaker Aquila, with a cloth she designed and created on returning to work after her cataract surgery

Patricia, 15, benefited from cataract surgery as part of the Light Up Lives project.

She first noticed the cataract whilst away at boarding school, and eventually moved schools to be closer to home as the condition worsened.

Despite fears, she went ahead with the cataract surgery, which was successful, in September 2023.

“The project really helped me because I was turning slowly blind,” Patricia said.

She added: “Everything is now back to normal. The pains are all gone. Maybe if it’s very hot or cold it hurts a little bit. I can sleep. I am back at school. School is great. I am enjoying it. But sometimes it is challenging – especially chemistry.

“When I grow up, I would love to be a doctor. I just say a doctor as an umbrella term because I can’t be specific – I don’t yet know what sort of doctor.”

The project is being supported by broadcaster Gyles Brandreth, who said: “My wife and I have passionately supported CBM’s sight-saving work for over 20 years, because we believe that no one should face a lifetime of blindness just because their family is poor.”

He added: “People are living needlessly blind with cataracts, when simple surgery could restore their sight – if only their families could afford it. Supporting CBM means that more people can have their sight restored and live a life full of opportunity.”

Those who want to make a donation to CBM can do so online.

Lead image: An eye surgeon removes patient Lucia’s cataract during CBM’s Light Up Lives project in Zimbabwe