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'My husband left me for another woman after I lost my eyesight'

Wycliffe Omondi, the Head of Vector Borne and Neglected Tropical Diseases at the Ministry of Health administers antibiotics to residents of Olpusimoru town, Narok. [File, Standard] 

Jepkor Chemasunde, 46, from Nasorot village in Tiaty was abandoned by her husband seven years after partially losing her eyesight.

Chemasunde said her condition began in 2013.  In 2015, her husband abandoned her, claiming that she was ‘useless’ and ended up marrying another woman.

To add insult to her injury, Chemasunde’s seven-year-old son’s eyes started to produce discharge containing pus and would ache in 2015.

The mother of three said she was isolated by the community alleging that the ‘gods’ were not happy with her, with others speculating that her family was cursed.

At first, she sought help from a traditional healer but the situation worsened and the pain became unbearable. “I couldn’t withstand the pain, it was hard for me to tell what was happening to me, it made me believe that indeed the gods were punishing me for an unknown mistake. My husband left and married another woman from the neighbouring village, my children suffered due to stigmatization,” she said.

Chemasunde though devastated by her husband’s move visited a nearby health facility in 2019. She had to trek a distance of 30 kilometres to Chemolingot where medics after a check-up she was diagnosed with trachoma. The medics then said her condition was becoming severe and had to be booked for surgery.

Halima Abdul, 65, a businesswoman in Tangulbei, Tiaty also developed an eye problem in 2021. At first, she blamed smoke which affects her eyes when cooking.

Mrs Abdul said her vision started becoming blurry and was forced to seek medication. “I have been advised by the medics who performed the surgery to avoid being in a smoky and dusty place and also to wash my eyes regularly,” she said.

Dr Ezekiel Tallam, an ophthalmologist in Baringo County said Tiaty and some parts of Baringo North and Baringo South are endemic areas.

Dr Tallam said that trachoma is caused by bacteria that causes coarsening of the inner surface of the eyelids, eyelashes rubbing against the eyeball and itchiness.

He stated that some of the contributing factors to the rise of infections in the area is due to poor hygiene, scarcity of water, dust, flies, and age factor. “The infection is rampant within pastoralist communities due to their lifestyle. Children are most affected with them being carriers but the effects will be felt much later when they are adults if not treated, being actively infected, they would transmit it to their mothers due to daily interaction with them,” he said.

He stated that the neglected tropical disease was less reported among men. Tallam said that in the last survey in 2018 the number of infected persons had reduced to 1,200 in Tiaty due to the intervention put in place by the Ministry of Health.

The Ministry, he said, started administering Zithromax tablets to the masses, improved hygiene and free surgery in partnership with Fred Hollows Foundations.

“From 2011 to 2018 we have reached approximately 7,000 people, but so far, we put in place prevention mechanisms, to help in mitigating the rate of infection. Some of the interventions are like giving everyone antibiotics residing in endemic areas,” he added. County Director of Preventive and Promotive Health Dr Patrick Boruett said that they are focused on eradicating trachoma totally by 2023.

He noted that over 21,000 people have received treatment so far.

On October 30, 2021, during the launch of the anti-trachoma prevention exercise at Tangulbei in Tiaty Baringo County, health officials said that out of 100 people tested 34 had trachoma.