NOT many people can say that their life was changed in less than
half an hour; but Flossy Mtambo can.
She is one of the examples produced by Sightsavers to help
promote its new A Million Miracles fund-raising campaign.
Mrs Mtambo, aged 71, lives in Malawi. Her eyesight had faded
gradually over several years, to the point where she could barely
see more than a metre in front of her. She could not read, or farm
her land for maize. As a consequence, her husband was forced to
work less in order to look after her, throwing the couple into
The cause of her near-blindness was cataracts - a build-up of
protein which clouds the lens of the eye and prevents light from
reaching the retina. It afflicts as many as 80 million people
worldwide, and is largely the result of ageing.
Yet it is both simple and cheap to fix, requiring only a short
half-hour outpatient operation to exchange the clouded lens with a
Mrs Mtambo's bandages were removed a few days after the
operation. "Before the operation I was living without really
knowing what was going on around me," she said.
"I was excited just to see my house for the first time in years.
I went inside and picked up my favourite book and started to
Sightsavers is a UK-based charity. It has performed the same
operation in more than 30 countries. Its new campaign to give one
million people their sight back by 2018, is backed with
match-funding by the Department for International Development. For
every pound given before 31 December, the Government will donate
another pound. Each operation costs about £30; so the charity's
target is at least £30 million in the next three years.
Julie Jenner, a spokeswoman for the charity, said that, while
sight-restoring operations such as fixing cataracts were cheap and
simple, many people in the developing world found it impossible to
be diagnosed, or even to reach the nearest hospital or clinic.
"Often patients live in remote areas and can't get to a health
centre. Or, if they can get to see a doctor, they can't afford to
pay for treatment. Some people don't even know that their sight
condition is treatable."
Conditions like cataracts affect more than just those suffering
from them. "Children will often miss out on school, as they stay
home to help their parent or grandparent. For many, losing vision
means losing their livelihood, their independence, their ability to
support a family, and make a better life for themselves and their
To publicise the new campaign, Sightsavers filmed and broadcast
a cataract operation live from Malawi, on 8 October. The story
begins with an ophthalmic clinical officer, Madalitso Nyangulu, who
travels on a motorbike for 40 minutes each day into rural Malawi to
screen for eye conditions in far-flung villages.
On one visit, he met Winesi March, a farmer who had slowly
become completely blind. Mr March, who says he is either 69 or 70
years old, was diagnosed by Mr Nyangulu as having cataracts. Both
his operation and the subsequent removal of bandages were broadcast
live online around the world.
In the video, viewers see Mr March's face as the doctor removes
the last bandage from his eyes and he can see for the first time in
several years. As he laughs in amazement, singing and dancing break
out on the ward.
It is scenes like this that Sightsavers hope will inspire people
to donate to their appeal.
www.millionmiracles.org. The Church Times is a
media partner for the campaign.