Squint patient Hakeema with her mom in Ghana

Ghana: Hakeema Can Thrive At School Without Her Squint

February 2020

We met this bundle of energy during our recent Flying Eye Hospital project in Ghana. Hakeema was treated for squint by our team of volunteer doctors and local partners at the Korle Bu Eye Centre.

Hakeema’s parents first spotted problems with her sight when she was just a month old and rushed her to hospital on seeing how pronounced her squint was. The hospital recommended contact lenses for treatment, but they unfortunately didn’t do anything to help correct her vision.

In Ghana, around 6,300 children are blind due to avoidable causes

Her mother, Sumaiyah, soon received a call that changed everything. She was told that the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital would be running a program in Accra and Hakeema was invited for a screening.

Our Volunteer Faculty recommended surgery at the local hospital to correct her squint - using her as an example strabismus case to help train local eye doctors. Sumaiyah told us: “I was really happy because initially I was really eager for the surgery, so that at least everything can fall into place, so that she can grow and it will correct by itself.

Brave Hakeema with her mom before her operation to correct her squint

Brave Hakeema with her mom before her operation

The timing was perfect! Hakeema’s squint was gradually getting worse and the condition had begun to affect everyday life. Her mother said: “Before the surgery she could hardly have contact with light. She would just squint at the light or squeeze her eyes.”

The condition affected more than just Hakeema’s sight. When she saw her sister going to school every day, she would cry and ask her mother if she could go too.

Sumaiyah, who has a squint herself, teaches kindergarten and knows more than most how important education is. However, she was so worried about the social stigma of having a squint and refused to send Hakeema to nursery any sooner than she had to.

Hakeema's transformation: Before and after her operation to correct her squint

Hakeema before & after surgery to correct her squint

She said: “People didn’t understand her condition so they were kind of having some myth that maybe I did something wrong during my pregnancy. That is why she came out with that condition. It was just out of societal judgement, that’s why I didn’t want to send her to school. They have a whole lot of misconceptions about it. It is quite difficult when you have a situation here.

Following surgery, we went to visit the family at their home and were met by a vivacious Hakeema running around, singing, dancing and dragging her Orbis teddy bear around with her, which she has now named ‘Baby Hakeema’.

You would hardly know that she’d undergone surgery on both eyes just a few days beforehand. Her relieved mom said: “Before the surgery I was nervous, and I was crying. I was really sad. I was just afraid, what if it goes wrong, something goes wrong. What if she is under-corrected or over-corrected, it means I have to go through all this trauma again. It was very successful. I feel happy.

Hakeema with her mom and older sister post strabismus surgery in Ghana

Hakeema back to her lively self at home after surgery

Before the surgery I was nervous, and I was crying. I was really sad. I was just afraid, what if it goes wrong, something goes wrong. What if she is under-corrected or over-corrected, it means I have to go through all this trauma again. It was very successful. I feel happy

Sumaiyah

Hakeema's mom

Now that the surgery is over and she’s healing well, Sumaiyah is looking forward to sending Hakeema to school soon so she can follow in the footsteps of her big sister, who she loves to imitate. She’s just so lively and sociable, it’s easy to imagine her thriving in her education.

While we were able to transform Hakeema's life, there are many more just like her facing avoidable vision loss. Ghana has only 1,117 eye care professionals (primarily in urban areas) for over 28 million people, with less than 90 ophthalmologists, 500 eye nurses, 320 optometrists and 200 opticians.

Hakeema's mom is incredibly thankful and sees a bright future for her daughter. Improving visual impairment and blindness healthcare is a country-wide priority so a huge thank you goes to our brilliant partners, committed volunteers and supporters for ensuring we could get this project off the ground and help improve the quality of eye care in Ghana for generations to come.

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