In Pakistan, free clinic for refugees uncovers effort to save girl’s sight


Five year-old Adila struggled to keep her eyes open as a doctor pointed a torch in her face during a free clinic held for Afghan refugees in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi.

Sitting in a chair twice her size, with her father beside her, Adila was just one of many people being attended to in a bustling hall where the UN refugee agency and the Pakistan Eye Bank Society (PEBS) have organized a free eye clinic on every Wednesday in the month of May.

Afghan refugees using the service have ranged in age from five to 95. They are provided with treatment and medicine for a variety of eye illnesses. After the initial diagnosis, the PEBS offers free treatment at its main hospital for patients with curable eye diseases or infections.

According to Adila’s father, Taj Muhammad, the youngster accidentally injured her eye with a knife while cutting an apple at home. Adila was not able to describe what happened. “I noticed her eye was getting red and watery but thought it was a viral infection,” said her father, who works as a baker.

Taj took her to the hospital, where her eye was operated on, but to no avail. “It’s been three months since the accident, but there are no signs of improvement. Her eye is still red and swollen and she is starting to lose her vision in her right eye,” the anxious father told the doctor. And the surgery cost 8,000 Pakistani rupees (US$100), a lot of money for Taj.

Adila is the oldest of Taj’s three daughters. He came to Pakistan 15 years ago from northern Afghanistan’s Kunduz province. Since the accident in February, Adila has stopped going to school. According to her father, “children were making fun of her, calling her names. She doesn’t go out to play anymore.”

The doctor examining her said that Adila’s cornea had been damaged and a thorough examination would be necessary to determine whether or not her condition was curable.

Among those with less serious issues to address was Abdul Salam, who at the age of 95 received his first pair of glasses. Several other visitors were diagnosed with cataracts and registered for future operations to remove them.

UNHCR Senior Field Assistant Bilal Agha said he was moved to see people arriving filled with hope that they would have their vision restored. “Most of those we’re seeing here are people who would not otherwise be able to afford treatment,” he added.

Of the 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan, some 71,000 reside in Sindh province, in which Karachi is located.

Adila’s father is anxious about the outcome and the cost of her final diagnosis. “It’s not just a matter of an eye,” he said, “This is her life. How will my child live in this unforgiving world if, God forbid, she loses her vision?”

By Duniya Aslam Khan in Karachi, Pakistan

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