National Geographic : 2016 Sep
A cure in sight 53 hometown of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. When Ndume visited, the hospital’s value, and inadequacy, were made clear. Sched- uled for five days, she stayed for seven, did more than a hundred operations, and left a waiting list of hundreds. “It is like this everywhere,” she told me. For every patient she treats, dozens go unseen and unseeing: “Always more.” When I mentioned to Ndume the causes of blindness this story would address, this was her gentle response: “These other things, macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, they are nothing next to cataracts.” The most generous of souls, Ndume did not mean those conditions are inconsequential or that no one should seek cures for them. She meant that in the quest to end blindness, medicine’s biggest challenge is not just finding cures but also delivering them. That day Ndume performed nine cataract operations before lunch. Observing one, I saw for the first time a knife slice into an eyeball. The sight disturbed me—in part, I realized, be- cause nothing symbolizes awareness as much as an eye wide open. Here was an eye absurdly wide open, thanks to the ophthalmic speculum holding back its lids—yet utterly oblivious to the steel carving a curve in its cornea. Recognizing that made it easier to watch. I knew that the anesthetic would soon fade and that once it did, the eye would see clearly. j Anita (left) and Sonja Singh were born with cataracts that their rural Indian family could not afford to treat. When the sisters were five and 12, donors paid for surgery. Eye-brain pathways are more malleable at younger ages, so Anita gained more vision than Sonja—but both now savor new sights, such as these towering reeds.