Giving Thanks for Sight

In October, Dr Chet Jenkins made his annual fall trek to Ethiopia. Along with dental services, he introduced Dera to Drs Jon Wilson and Scott Kowallis, optometrists and his childhood friends. In turn, Dr Wilson brought his son, Turner, and Kowallis brought his wife, Sue, to be assistants to their first-of-many-to-come eye clinics. As with any pioneering adventure, their experiences were both unexpected and rewarding. Two grueling days spent by our country director, Betty, in negotiations with customs over equipment and medication added a little stress but could not thwart the determination of these fine folks from offering their services. The response to the much-needed eye services was overwhelming. Word travels fast in rural communities about the opportunity to see a doctor and people came in droves. Our garden expert, Bob Johnson, when not planting, spent his time managing the crowd and keeping order. Problems concerning the eyes are prevalent in this area due to several contributing factors; malnourishment, contaminated water, poor ventilation with cooking fires, and disease.

Drs Wilson and Kowallis knew they would be faced with surprises on their adventure to Ethiopia, however they were unprepared for the shocking occurrence of an eye disease called “trachoma”. Never heard of it? Because it was eradicated in the industrialized world by the 1950’s. Trachoma is an infectious disease, resulting in blindness if neglected. Ironically, it can easily be treated with antibiotics or simple surgery. Ethiopia has one of the highest occurrences of trachoma in the developing world, with women being three times more likely to be affected. A few of the root causes of trachoma are poor hygiene, poverty and inadequate sanitation; all of which exist in Dera. It is no mystery why villagers were clamoring to get in to see the eye doctors. Along with assessing sight and giving out prescription glasses, Wilson and Kowallis treated trachoma patients with antibiotics. You cannot put a price tag on the gift of sight. It is “clear to see” that Wilson and Kowallis have already made a huge difference in Dera. And this is only the beginning.