By Andrew Wasike and Magdalene Mukami
NAIROBI, Kenya (AA) – The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) on Wednesday performed free eye surgeries for poor communities in Kenya's northern town of Garissa.
The one-week exercise was launched by Turkish Ambassador to Kenya Ahmet Cemil Miroglu who traveled 370 kilometers from the Kenyan capital Nairobi to the semi-arid county of Garissa.
Many families struggle to access basic needs in Garissa, one of the poorest counties located to the northeast of the East African nation of Kenya.
In Garissa most people are nomadic pastoralists, and the change in climate has made the weather erratic contributing to the poverty levels.
The drought in the area has affected the area's nomads whose only livelihood is breeding and trading livestock.
Many here in Garissa suffer from eye cataracts -cloudy cornea that result in blurred vision- due to exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays in the dry and always sunny county.
Dust storms in Garissa have also affected the area's residents causing a myriad of eye problems such as bloodshot eyes, conjunctivitis, viral keratitis, eye discharge, watery eyes, swollen eyes, dry eyes, sensitive eyes and eyes with blurred vision.
A team of 14 volunteer medical students from Turkey, comprising ophthalmologists, surgeons and optometrists teamed up with Kenyan doctors from nongovernmental organizations such as the Centres for Health and Education Programmes (CHEPs) to offer free eye surgeries to thousands.
“I have been checked and operated on, I was partially blind, I could not see well but now I am told I will be able to see again tomorrow morning. I am thankful for the kind gesture that the Turkish people have shown us,“ Adan Ghale, a nomad, said.
Speaking after a tour of the Garissa hospital where the operations are taking place, Miroglu said that Turkey is keen on helping Kenya’s health sector.
“Our relations with Kenya is very important, we attach utmost importance to the humanitarian aspect of our relations, so our medical team is ready to touch the lives of our Kenyan brothers and sisters. This week they will be here, and many patients will benefit from this care. We are looking forward to continuing our cooperation.”
Leman Coktu, a Turkish medical student, told Anadolu Agency: “We are now helping people and I am so grateful. We came for cataract operations. Today we operated on 40 people. We will do more operations as the days go by. I am so grateful to be here. I like the people here and I want to help them so much and I hope when I graduate I want to come here again as a volunteer.”
TIKA also distributed 500 spectacles to needy primary school students across 11 schools in Garissa county.
In total the team expects to conduct 250 cataract operations and 2500 eye screenings which include the distribution of eye drops and other eye care products.
Dr. Hamid Alkizim told Anadolu Agency that the prescription glasses came at an opportune time. ''The exercise comes just as students prepare for their end of second term examinations before the long holidays in August. The spectacles will help them study.”
“These students cannot afford the prescription glasses which go for about $120 to $180, which is really expensive. The volunteers who came from Turkey are medical students. They involve in whole process and surgeries. They assist surgeons. So far two of them have started performing surgeries.”
''The Turkish volunteers who are all female also teach primary school students about water, sanitation, and hygiene and put a smile on their faces by giving them toys and playing games with them,'' he said.
The Kenya Bureau of Statistics said that residents in the area earn just less than 100 Kenya shillings ($1 a day).