Wednesday, 07 Jul 2021
Gokul longed to go to school like other boys his age, but every day he had the heartbreaking experience of crying as he watched his younger brother Akhleish go to school while he stayed home.
The six-year-old boy lived in a remote Indian village, which only received electricity a year ago and has no local access to health centres or schools. Since Gokul was a baby, he has struggled with cataracts blurring the vision in both of his eyes.
When Gokul was one, his mum Aaroli noticed something was wrong with his eyesight and took him to a traditional healer in another village. The healer said Gokul’s vision would be restored. But instead, it got worse. Five years later, Gokul’s vision has deteriorated so much that he can barely recognise an object even a few metres away.
An intelligent little boy, Gokul spends his days sitting alone inside his family’s hut, playing with stones, or engaging in his favourite pastime of caring for their calf.
His family, too poor to take Gokul to a doctor to find out why he can’t see, didn’t realise that he was born with cataracts blurring the vision in both his eyes. Or that without a relatively simple surgery to remove them, he would be blind for life.
Time is running out for Gokul. If children with cataracts don’t get treatment in the early years of their life, it becomes less and less likely cataract surgery will be successful.
His mother Aaroli recalls, “Gokul was about a year old when I realized he has a vision problem. Some months later, when he started to stand and walk, he would often hit a wall or fall down into a pit.”
“He asks me when he will attend school… And I don’t have an answer. We can’t afford the transportation costs to the hospital. How can we pay for his treatment?”
Cataract, a clouding of the eye’s lens, is the world’s leading cause of blindness. A quick surgical intervention can restore sight for people living with cataract. Sadly, about 20 million people, largely in poverty-stricken countries, live with the condition untreated due to barriers to accessing to health care.