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South Sudanese Father, Son Walk 150 Miles for Sight-Saving Surgery

  • At only 11 years old, Lochin was suffering from trichiasis, the advanced stage of trachoma. This photo shows the condition of his eyelids prior to receiving surgery.

  • When the surgical team later traveled to Kauto for surgery camps, they found Lochin in his village. He was happy and healthy and able to assist his family in herding animals. (All photos: The Carter Center)

At a mobile surgery camp in Lotien, a village in South Sudan’s Eastern Equatoria region, a man requested surgery to help his son Lochin, age 11, who was suffering from trachomatous trichiasis (TT). After walking 245 kilometers (more than 150 miles) from their home, Lochin and his father arrived just before the temporary camp was nearing its end.

Several months before, the father noticed his son was suffering and having trouble with his vision. The man sold several of his cattle to raise enough money to take Lochin for eye care services he had heard were available in Ethiopia in an area not supported by The Carter Center. The pair left their home in Kauto, South Sudan, and walked for 30 kilometers (18 miles) into Ethiopia, only to find that no TT surgical services were available.

Lochin and his father remained in Ethiopia for a month to save enough money to return home. They then set off for Mogos South, South Sudan, where they had heard another TT surgical camp was operating. After walking 150 kilometers (93 miles) over four more days, Lochin and his father arrived in Mogos South, only to find that the surgical team had moved on to Mogos North. They then walked the 20 kilometers (12 miles) to Mogos North, only to learn that the team had moved yet again, to Lotien, 45 kilometers (28 miles) away. The surgical camps remain in one area for just a few days before moving to a new community.

It was in Lotien that Carter Center program officers finally met Lochin and his father. Upon arrival at the health facility, the boy was wearing a cap to protect his eyes from the sun. His eyes were swollen, and he clearly was in pain. The two finally had arrived in the right place at the right time, and the boy received the trichiasis surgery he needed in both eyelids. The day after undergoing surgery, he was running around the compound and in much better spirits.

Trichiasis, the advanced stage of trachoma, results from years of repeated infections. The scarring that forms on the inner eyelid as a result of these infections causes the eyelid to turn inward, allowing the eyelashes to scratch the surface of the eye. Left untreated, this painful stage of the disease can scar the eye, leading to permanent blindness.

Because it is caused by repeated infections, trichiasis usually is associated with older adults. However, in South Sudan, where years of conflict have caused disruptions in the program’s ability to treat people for trachoma, children as young as 5 years have been seen with trichiasis.

The Carter Center is working alongside the Ministry of Health in South Sudan to ensure that surgical services are made available to all who are suffering from this painful and debilitating condition. While insecurity has restricted Carter Center operations to the Eastern Equatoria region of the country, progress is being made. In 2018, The Carter Center assisted with 530 trichiasis surgeries, including Lochin’s.

The Carter Center remains committed to continuing its work in South Sudan to ensure that no one goes blind from trachoma.

At only 11 years old, Lochin was suffering from trichiasis, the advanced stage of trachoma. This photo shows the condition of his eyelids prior to receiving surgery.

When the surgical team later traveled to Kauto for surgery camps, they found Lochin in his village. He was happy and healthy and able to assist his family in herding animals.

Learn more about the Center's Trachoma Control Program »

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