Madagascar may be known for its natural landscape filled with lemurs, boabab trees and stunning seashores, but the isolation that leads to this allure also brings many burdens.
22 million people live in Madagascar. Over 75% live below the poverty line. Nearly a third are illiterate. Risk for a variety of diseases - including malaria - remain high.
When HelpMeSee team members made their first trip to Madagascar, the need for eye care was clear. Most Madagascans live in rural areas requiring a boat trip or a long drive over dirt roads to the nearest town. Meanwhile, the limited number of ophthalmologists-just 2 per million people-live mostly in cities. Access to quality healthcare is challenging in the few places it does exist.
As our campaign in Madagascar began during our 5th year of existence, we neared the milestone achievement of 200,000 surgeries.
In our short history, HelpMeSee received non-profit certification in 2010. We spent the next 18 months laying the groundwork for a global health campaign before we started surgeries. In those first four years of running programs our average number of annual surgeries was 50,000. In 2014 we completed a total of 76,637. We expect these numbers to only grow.
Since our support for surgeries began, we have developed the most advanced evidence-based effort to end cataract blindness.
For perspective, 200,000 is roughly the population of Baton Rouge or Salt Lake City. Individual personalities could easily be lost in such a volume. But as we are often reminded, each patient has their own story, their own motivations to seek care, and their own unique thread woven into the broader scope of our campaign.
Scenes from the HelpMeSee campaign launch in Madagascar in the summer of 2015.
From India to China, Peru to Madagascar, our partners restored sight to 200,000 patients across three continents. These were mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. They were a son who could no longer help an elderly parent and a daughter who dropped out of school because she went blind.
The first patient treated through our Peru partnership. A lifelong poet, he could no longer write when he became blind.
Our patients range from infants to centenarians. They work in every field imaginable.
In Peru, our first patient was a poet who turned to memorizing verses after going blind. The list goes on.
Just a few our patient’s trades.
Our 200,000th surgery was Florentine, an older woman from a slum in the capital city of Antananarivo. She lived with her daughter in a modest home painted in faint blues and reds.
Florentine was one of our first patients in Madagascar, and in many ways her situation reflects the dire challenges most of our patients face. When Florentine went blind, her daughter left work in a local store to spend time caring for her mother. Their main source of income dried up. The impact of blindness almost always extends beyond the patient.
"I was completely dependent on my daughter and others to help cook, to help me move around and even to do the most ordinary things."
Florentine at home in Antananarivo, Madagascar.
"I will be able to return to my shop and financially support my family and mother."
Florentine (right) at home with her daughter after a successful cataract surgery through a HelpMeSee partner.
Just days after her surgery, the HelpMeSee team visited Florentine to check up on her progress. We asked about her health and her family.
The answer? A smile said it all.