In The Blink Of An Eye

STORY OF Hussein Yaqoub
WRITTEN BY Abdelhakim Yessouf in association with Waleed Alwaheeb, Jean-Michel Happi, Riad Ragueb Ahmed, Khemais El Gazzah and Mohannad Zafer Almashharawi

In 2008, the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) founded the Alliance to Fight Avoidable Blindness, which brought together partners from across the globe to support and build capacity to fight the root causes of blindness in Africa. The primary goal was to treat cataracts, which are the leading cause of blindness in many countries where ophthalmologists are scarce, and people lack the skills to perform successful surgeries. The first phase of the initiative focused on eight African member countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Guinea, Mali and Niger. The Alliance has provided eye care to over 244,000 people and restored the eyesight of more than 49,000 suffering from blindness.

Hussein lives in the village of Jamara in the province of Wadi Fira, 1,000 km from the Chadian capital N’Djamena, with his wife Fatima and his three lovely children. All three of their children had cataracts in their eyes due to congenital blindness. But as a poor farmer, Hussein was unable to afford the high costs of treating his children in hospital. He worked hard to earn enough to pay for his eldest daughter to be treated first, so that she could attend school like the other children in the village her age; unfortunately, he was not able to make enough.

But one day, he was told about the Alliance to Fight Avoidable Blindness. Founded by IsDB, the Alliance offers free treatment for those affected by cataracts. An estimated 253 million men, women and children worldwide suffer from visual impairments, 89% of whom live in low-income countries. 

Blindness is a barrier to the social and economic inclusion of those affected: Hussein’s children were unable to go to school and would struggle as they grew older to live independent lives. Instead, they would have to depend on the support of their family and become locked into a cycle of poverty, a life he simply did not want for his children.

Hussein began learning more about the Alliance and the impact of the campaigns that it had run. Then one day, he heard that a campaign had come to the neighboring Adri region, not far from where he lived. He hurried to visit it, as he was aware of the free treatment provided by IsDB to the poor and needy. He took all three children with him, and luckily, they received the treatment they needed. 

"IsDB launched the Alliance to Fight Avoidable Blindness in 2008 to address humanitarian situations affecting children like Hussein’s."

All three children regained their sight and have now enrolled into school. Hussein and his wife cried with joy and thank Allah every day for recovering their children’s eyesight and giving them a second chance at life. They are always grateful to the organizers of the campaign and those responsible for IsDB Group’s involvement in the Alliance to Fight Avoidable Blindness. 

IsDB launched the Alliance to Fight Avoidable Blindness in 2008 to address humanitarian situations affecting children like Hussein’s. The Alliance is a regional initiative that relies on South–South cooperation mechanisms and a multi-pronged approach to the problem of blindness.

In its first phase, which ran from 2008 to 2015, the Alliance targeted eight countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Cameroon, Guinea, Mali and Niger. The primary goal was to treat cataracts, which are the leading cause of blindness in many countries where ophthalmologists are scarce, and people lack the skills needed to perform surgeries. The Alliance managed to achieve impressive results by coordinating the efforts of eye health non-governmental organizations, health ministries, training centers and donors. 

During the first phase of the Alliance’s work, IsDB gained valuable experience, forged important partnerships, built infrastructure and developed effective working practices to support cooperation in the fight against blindness. The goals set for the second phase of work, which began in 2018 and will run to 2022, are ambitious as the coalition aims to conduct about 100,000 surgeries to treat cataracts, examine nearly a million children and provide glasses for them if necessary, as well as establish at least six new treatment centers. It also plans to strengthen at least three regional training centers, train 90 eye care professionals, and provide 40 scholarships for specialization in ophthalmology and ophthalmic nursing. 

To increase funding for the second phase of the Alliance’s work, IsDB and the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development organized a coordination meeting for existing Alliance partners in Istanbul, Turkey, in March 2018. Several new partners took part and the meeting was attended by more than 50 participants representing 32 partner institutions from 13 countries: Azerbaijan, Austria, Brazil, Egypt, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mali, Morocco, Libya, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. 

This meeting provided an opportunity to win the support of technical and financial partners. The Turkish government pledged to cover the costs of one million surgeries to treat cataracts and provide 10 million pairs of glasses for children. Its pledge encouraged other partners to contribute financially and in kind to support the Alliance’s work program and, in total, the pledges amounted to around USD 250 million, which far exceeded the initial budget of the Alliance (USD 30 million). 

Following this extraordinary meeting, IsDB and the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development launched the second phase of the Alliance to Fight Avoidable Blindness during the 43rd annual meeting of IsDB Group held in Tunis in April 2018. Thirty-two partners signed up to the second phase in the presence of the President of IsDB Group and committed to providing financial and technical support. As agreed at the earlier meeting, the total signed pledges amounted to about USD 250 million.