National Geographic | August 2016
A girl of 14 has been blind half her life because of cataracts, a condition most often associated with advanced age. Nasra inherited cataracts, however, as did three of her four siblings and her mother before them. In the developed world, cataract surgery is a common outpatient procedure. But Nasra lives in the Sundarbans, a region of West Bengal, India, made up of islands and rivers where many villages are accessible only by boat. Blindness is prevalent in the Sundarbans, but until recently getting treatment was nearly impossible for its residents. The services available were ill-advised: One man, Mahammad, sought care for an eye injury from a doctor who was actually a quack. Eventually, due to years of improper eye care, he became blinded for life. In this rural setting, blindness can be especially isolating. Fearing for her safety, Nasra never leaves her home alone. Mahammad requires assistance with everyday tasks. Ophthalmologist Asim Sil organized a network of medical workers to examine people in the Sundarbans and transport them by bus or by boat to care centers and a hospital. His plan is to expand the network’s reach even further and help connect the blind not just to the outside world but also to their own communities.