Ophthalmic nurse with a passion for fighting blindness in Kajiado County
An Ophthalmic nurse at the Kajiado County Referral Hospital, Francis Wambua has become a household name in the remote areas of Kajiado.
He is popularly identified as “daktari wetu” by locals whom he has spent years with, in his fight against the troubling trachoma trichiasis infection.
In an interview with KNA on Saturday while conducting an operation at Olgulului health care centre during a recent outreach, Wambua explains what motivated him to roll up his sleeves and give his all to fight the eye-blinding infection.
“I took an interest to go out to the field to treat people due to the high number of patients seeking treatment at the hospital. Some sought treatment late when their eyesight had completely been lost and could not be restored. This was very disheartening and that’s when I decided to go for training to become an ophthalmic nurse,” he said.
Wambua’s passion for his work is quite evident as he interacts with his patients in the local Maa dialect, a language he says he took an interest to learn so as to communicate easily with his patients who were mostly aged and do not understand either Kiswahili or English.
“I mostly work in the remote areas and most of my patients are elderly people who do not understand other languages thus I took it upon myself to learn the local dialect so as communicate well with them,” said Wambua.
The ophthalmic nurse has so far conducted at least 700 trachoma trichiasis surgeries since 2007 and has traversed almost all villages in the vast county.
He says reaching out to patients back in the villages helps in reaching each and every person to avoid the effects of aftermath blindness which occur when a patient is not given initial treatment during the active stage.
“I have been engaged in at least 100 outreaches that have enabled me to traverse to the furthest points of the County from Mosiro in Kajiado West to Rombo in Kajiado south where people are in dire need of our services,” says Wambua said.
He regretted that the rate of infection in the county was still high despite frequent mass drug administration campaigns and intensive community mobilization awareness done yearly.
Wambua noted that despite the disease being preventable, it affects 30% of the population with 3.5% of the infected being in danger of permanent blindness.
Some of the factors that contribute to the high infection rate include poor hygiene, fear of surgery, ignorance and cultural beliefs.
Wambua cited a recent case during the outreach where two patients who had been set for the surgery boycotted at the last minute while heading to the theatre.
“We had two cases and both of them had allowed us to take them up from their homes so that we could performed the surgery but they later boycotted and started calling us names saying they don’t believe that they are sick. At the initial stages, trachoma does not cause any pain until when it touches the cornea and since they had not gotten to that stage, this may be the reason they quit,” the charismatic Wambua said.
He noted the need for community sensitization on prevention of the disease adding that most locals were ignorant and do not know how to prevent themselves from getting infected.
Wambua called on the community to practice proper hand washing, regular facial cleaning and hygienic disposal of animal and human wastes as they provide a conducive ground for breeding of flies, the vectors of Chlamydia Trachomatis, the bacterium that causes trachoma.
The ophthalmic nurse further urged them to go for regular eye check- ups and seek medication immediately they developed symptoms of trachoma such as seeing blurred objects and pain in the eyes so as to save their sight.
During the just concluded outreach program at Olgulului, Kajiado South, a total of 2, 801 people were screened and treated. Twenty one trachoma and 24 cataract surgeries were also conducted.
The outreach was organised by the Ministry of Health, Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, AMREF and Sight Savers.
Trachoma is a bacterial infection which affects eye conjunctiva and is mostly common in dry, dusty areas and is contracted through fingers, eyes and flies.
The disease is prevalent among pastoralist communities as livestock are kept in close proximity to the households propagating the breeding of flies which spread trachoma.
The eye blinding infection is preventable through practicing proper hygiene like face and hand washing.
Kajiado County has a huge trachoma burden as revealed by a survey undertaken by AMREF in 2014 where 28% of the population was found to be infected with 3.3% of the infected in danger of permanent blindness.
According to statistics by AMREF, an estimated 19% of all cases of blindness in the country are caused by trachoma. In Kajiado North, Kajiado Central and Loitokitok sub counties, 28% of children aged between 1 and 9 years have active trachoma while 3.3% of the population above 19 years has advanced trachoma and were in danger of going blind.
By Rop Janet/ Albert Lemomo