Papua New Guinea
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Human eye – a window to one’s soul

BY PISAI GUMAR

An elderly man from far flung Agotame village of Mawae tribe upstream of the Waria River grieved over the loss of his sight for almost 15 years.

Both eyes were impaired hindering his vision and ability to read information, freedom of mobility and choice was at odds, he felt like a helpless infant.

He relied heavily upon a walking stick, aided by his lovely wife to use the loo and to wash in nearby rugged Waria River, a stone’s throw away from his hamlet, on the other side of main Agotame village.

Though Semase was full of courage, he realized his fading sight meant he cannot perform any daily chores as a husband and a father to support his family for a living.

Agotame is nestled upstream Waria River in Kira LLG, Sohe district, Northern Province sharing border with Huon Gulf and Bulolo in Morobe.

Geographical isolation and hefty travelling costs tied with no relatives in Popondetta and Lae to reside and seek medical treatment prevented him to live in grief for that long.

Nearby Popoe aid post, a day’s walk downstream provides only basic health care for common curable illnesses, but operates on ad-hoc basis, lacking health worker and basic drugs.

Person’s living with disability (PLWD) with special needs are left to fend for themselves in respective abode in rural areas.

Semase, in his early 60’s accepted his fate and had to live with it.
His four grown up sons and a daughter, all married were faithful enough to assist their mother besides their family obligations.

Interestingly, his blindness refined his other senses in hearing, taste, smell and touch into alert mode to sense things for a living.

In his company daily was a brown four-battery Hitachi radio his second born son Yewa bought to keep him to keep abreast with current affairs within and abroad.

Confined amidst Morobe and Northern border, he switches between NBC-Morobe and Northern, besides FM 100 frequencies that pick the signal clearly.

In 2014, on a fine Wednesday evening, Semase (now deceased) tuned to NBC-Morobe and heard Bulolo MP Sam Basil (now deceased) was speaking.

Basil was on air during Bulolo Live Segment discussing Bulolo Eye Care (BEC), one among various other definite programs initiated.

Semase admired late Basil’s shrewdness, thus a loyal listener and knows very well various programs initiated.

Semase listened thoughtfully, while in his mind, wishing that if Basil was the Sohe MP at the time, would ensure such eye-care program for inhabitants in Kira LLG which he would be among the list of the patients to undergo surgery.

Without knowing Semase’s grief, this writer traversed upstream Waria River to Gobe village during Christmas Eve 2014.

Arriving Agotame at 5.30pm on December 26, Semase cried out in Tok Ples saying; “na diti iwaing mitesesiya aune bumasa ni benaung gosinasani aune geungwe yana ni ningaoko; na diti takasesi, mume mokora atu mitena aune bumesi…na meto”. (You should have come when my eye was in good condition, so we can see face-to-face and talk; instead, I am now living in total darkness and you come to visit me…my uncle).

Sobbing bitterly, Semase clarified the cause of his sight loss, allegedly from black poison over land issue.

Semase was regarded as the archive of Mawae Wapo clan customary land history.

After returning to Lae, the writer arrange for Semase’s trip to Angau Memorial Hospital to undergo eye surgery.

At Angau, eye care specialist, optician, Claudio Aulong and his two female nursing aides committed selfless efforts to ensure Semase recovered full sight.

It was amazing to witness a blind man to regain full vision through surgery and few days later, started reading a Bible for the first-time after 15 years in darkness.

Semase praised God Almighty and returned home happily, lived harmoniously until passed on peacefully in late 2020.

Semase’s tale reveals some crucial lessons in lack of specialist health care for PLWD in rural areas; not to mention children and young people with complex health needs.

Vision loss is becoming common in young adults and parents apart from elderly in many rural villages.

Yet, least to no awareness is conducted to educate people understand cause of sight-loss, its effects and the daily healthy diets to enrich activeness of their vision.

In human nature, our five senses are functionally interconnected that react coherently as and when situation determines.

Losing one of the five senses means walking into the darkest cave forever closing behind one’s Universal Rights and Constitutional Privileges.

Enduring such fate also put to test immediate family’s trust and confidence in caring for their loved-ones enduring odd situation.

Human eye is the window to one’s soul (inner-being), an important and complex sensory organ humans are endowed with.

It helps human in visualizing objects, light, color and depth perception.

Dealing with vision or sight loss is a challenge in itself especially loneliness, social isolation, feelings of worry, anxiety, fear and depression is common.

Limited accessibility to activities and information, social stigma and lack of employment are all factors frequently leading blind or low vision individuals in isolation.

Few facts about human eyes:

– Our eyes are about 1 inch across and weigh about 0.25 ounce;
– Human eye can differentiate approximately 10 million different colors;
– Our eyes remain the same size throughout life, whereas our nose and ears never stop growing.
– Human eye blinks an average of 4,200,000 times a year.
– Improves brain focus. The eyes are fundamental to a unique technique that has proved elementary in treating anxiety and other psychological disorders.
– Storage and transference of information.
– The structure and functions of the eye is complex. Each eye constantly adjusts the amount of light it lets in, focuses on objects near and far, and produces continuous images that are instantly transmitted to the brain.

Not many politicians and responsible government service agencies had a second thought about the wellbeing and special needs for PLWD in remote areas struggling in agony.
Late Basil identified the need to give a new lease of smile upon the blind people’s face in Waria, Wau Rural, Bulolo Urban, Watut, Mumeng and Buang in 2014.
The underlying intention was to restore their vision to see for themselves and be able to:
– Read and understand socio-economic and political development issues affecting their livelihoods;
– Move around freely without guide and do whatever activities of their choice and intention for a living, instead of someone making their decision;
– Exercise their rights and freedom of choice under the constitution to vote a political leader of their choice without fear and intimidation, instead of other people casting vote on their behalf in the pretext of blindness.
– Being mobile and participate equally as other able-bodied people in discussions and sharing knowledge and ideas regarding social-economic wellbeing and affairs.

The Bulolo district development authority (BDDA) funded the expenses of the program.
Eye care specialist, optician, Dale Gatnie from Star Vision Opticals was engaged to execute the program ward-by-ward.

Diagnosing patients and identifying minor and critical cases, testing their visions before supplying opticals based on the strength of their visibility.

While critical cases were referred for eye surgery conducted at Bulolo hospital.

The BDDA conducted the program in collaboration with eye-care specialists in Goroka, benefiting total of 18,855 patients diagnosed between 2014-2016 and in 2019.

Total of 6,580 people was screened between 2014-2016 within Mumeng (2,100), Buang (900), Watut (720), Bulolo Urban (1,388), Wau Rural (759) and Waria (713) patients.

Total of 3,478 reading glasses were issued while 537 patients referred for surgery which 397 actually underwent surgery for cataract and pterygium surgery.

Patients that underwent surgery in 2014 were 168, in 2015 were 114 and in 2016 were 115 patients.

Total of 1,347 was diagnosed normal. From the total, 36 needed eye drops, 761 needed Plano glasses and 547 needed distant glasses (still pending).

In 2019, 12,275 patients were screened within Mumeng-3,750, Buang-1,960, Watut-1,489, Bulolo Urban-4,080, Wau Rural-996 and Waria-yet to complete.

Total of 459 underwent surgery while 5,879 were issued reading glasses. Those needed distant glasses yet to be supplied were 912, Plano glasses-704, bifocal glasses-316.
Patients diagnosed normal were 4,005.

Total of 3,240 pcs of distant photochromic glasses are still needed to be issued to 1,932 patients for 2019 and 1,308 for 2014-2016.

However, this crucial initiative faded away with Basil into the Heaven to rest in peace.