Our Diabetic Retinopathy Screening services are giving Gazans back their independence
- 11 Nov 2019
Jamal Shaladan is a 62-year-old man from Dair-Al-Balah – a city in Gaza famed for its famous date palms (which the city is named after), which produce the region’s famous red ‘Hayani’ dates. The city enjoys a rich history dating back thousands of years, but it has definitely seen more prosperous times.
Jamal’s life in the besieged Gaza Strip is one wrought with worry. The economic and political blockade on the region has resulted in high unemployment rates, and Jamal is one of its many victims. Formerly a construction worker, like his father before him, he has been out of work for several years. He struggles to feed his large family of 10 children, who he ‘adores greatly’. They suffer further due to shortages of fuel, electricity, medicines and all other consumables.
Though this case is typical of most Gazans today, Jamal suffering has increased since 2017 when he began having vision troubles. He sought help from a local hospital who performed two cataract surgeries – but offered no follow up care. Unfortunately, after his surgeries his condition seemed to gradually worsen – he became unable to distinguish things in his own home, move independently without help and became incredibly depressed. He also began to suffer from pains in stomach which he didn’t understand. In spite of all of this suffering, the family put off seeking treatment as they were worried of the cost on their already desperate budget.
Thankfully for Jamal, our diabetic retinopathy screening team visited Dair-Al-Balah in 2019 to offer free screening for the condition to all residents over 50. Here he was diagnosed with un-managed diabetes and also further advanced complications from his previous surgery. Our team ensured that Jamal followed up treatment at our hospital in Gaza City where our retinal expert Dr Mahmoud Ghoniem diagnosed him with a retinal detachment and performed an urgent surgery to fix his retina.
After just one week post-surgery, Jamal’s vision had almost fully returned – for the first time in a long time he could distinguish objects, see the faces of his loved ones and was able to regain some of his independence. He will continue to see our staff for regular check-ups and has been referred on to a general clinic for management of his diabetes.
The existence of such a high-quality eye care facility in Gaza is fantastic. We faced so many obstacles to care prior to finding St John, and I am so grateful they have offered me treatment for free. I feel safe in the care of St John staff and am very grateful to the whole team. I have regained my freedom and my hope for the future!
Diabetic retinopathy is now the second most common cause of avoidable blindness across the occupied Palestinian territories, and we have implemented a series of projects to catch and treat the condition early amongst our most vulnerable populations. Since 2012, these screening services have been provided across the West Bank and Gaza and in UNWRA refugee camps in Jordan in partnership and supported by the World Diabetes Foundation, CBM, The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and the Fred Hollows Foundation (FHF).
The service, which has screened almost 60,000 patients, also allows us to diagnose unmanaged diabetes as well as other sinister conditions, like Jamal’s detached retina. His case highlights the importance of providing free, easily accessible primary screening options for patients in vulnerable situations – had we not been there to offer Jamal his eye test he would still be living in misery, and with time would have ended up permanently blinded. This is the kind of vital, life changing work our donors allow us to achieve, for which we are most grateful.