Saving Children’s Eyesight in Tanzania

A woman is examining the eyes of a young boy.

Dr. Mchikirwa Msina examines 7-year-old Mohammed's eyes two days after his cataract surgery.
© CBM/Hayduk

Dr. Mchikirwa Msina is one of very few ophthalmologists in Tanzania who can operate on children with cataracts. Day after day, she saves the eyesight of her little patients.

But the doctor also knows that she has a long way ahead of her- there are still so many children who need help.

"Children are not a job for me, neither in the clinic nor at home," says the ophthalmologist and mother of three children. 'They're so vulnerable and they give us so much. I love children."

At the beginning of her medical studies, Dr. Msina wanted to become a paediatrician, which unfortunately did not work out. When she received a CBM scholarship at Kilimanjaro Hospital (KCMC) in Moshi, Tanzania, she applied for the four-year training course to become an ophthalmologist and specialized in paediatric ophthalmology.

An exciting first surgery

Dr. Msina no longer remembers how many cataract operations she has conducted – at some point, she simply stopped counting. But she remembers her very first operation well: "I was very nervous and sweating so much! As students, we operated on cow's eyes for practice. But an experienced doctor was by my side. That helped a lot."

However, there are many moments in her daily work when Dr. Msina feels profound despair: "Many parents live very far away and have no money to travel. By the time the children come to us, it is already very late," laments the doctor.

A life and death situation

"Sometimes eye cancer can be fatal. Often we have to remove the eye and often even this drastic measure no longer saves the children from death." The memory of these cases overwhelms the otherwise cheerful doctor. After a pause, Dr. Msina continues: "This is why CBM donors are so important! Only with their help can we actively look for these children in remote areas and bring them to us."

A bus stops in front of the clinic. It brings new eye patients from near the Usambara Mountains. The patients include children with cataracts who have travelled six hours by bus to reach the clinic. A trip made possible thanks to CBM donors.

Omari's surgery

Dr. Mchikirwa Msina examining 11-year-old Omari's eyes.

Dr. Mchikirwa Msina examining 11-year-old Omari's eyes.

© CBM/Hayduk

One of the kids in the bus is 11-year-old Omari who has cataracts caused due to an accident. ‘My eyes hurt constantly, and everything appears foggy and blurry to me’, he laments. His parents were unable to afford a specialist for Omari. Now, after a year after the accident, Omari will finally undergo an operation. ‘You will be able to see well again’, Dr. Msina reassures him.

After the operation, Omari is relieved, but still a bit anxious. Will he regain his vision? Dr. Msina takes off the bandages and checks his eyes. He can now see well; the fog has disappeared! He will receive spectacles as well. Omari is happy with the result and jokes around with the other kids who have also undergone a successful operation. A few days later, he is back in his village with his thankful and relieved parents.

Rejuvenating with family in nature

Dr. Mchikirwa Msina at KCMC Hospital in Moshi, Tanzania.

Dr. Mchikirwa Msina at KCMC Hospital in Moshi, Tanzania.

© CBM/Hayduk

And Dr. Msina? She has again saved a child’s sight. It is a good day for her, one she ends by spending time with her family and children. ‘I am rejuvenated by my loved ones’, she says. "But the Kilimanjaro, on whose foot I live, also gives me strength. The sight of this sublime mountain with its snow-capped peak gives me inner peace and courage."