It started as any other itch, but turned out to be more serious.
Just like that itchy sensation you may get and brush off without offering any second thought to, little Christine Aguti didn't take her itchy eyes seriously earlier this year.
But when the urge to scratch intensified in both eyes, and became more frequent, that got the nine-year-old worried.
Aguti, from the remote village of Aguti in Serere district, decided to right away tell her grandmother Frances Aguti about her recurring discomfort. That was about five months ago.
The old woman took her to the nearby Kidetok Health Centre believing her granddaughter would soon recover after medical attention. But what the little girl had at first taken lightly turned out to be a more serious spot of bother.
The local health facility referred them to Soroti Main Hospital, which fortunately at the time had visiting Chinese doctors.
An examination revealed something serious with her eyes and the girl was then referred to St Benedictine Eye Hospital in Tororo where her condition was diagnosed as Keratoconus - a degenerative eye disorder that results into the cornea thinning and changing to a more conical shape, eventually distorting vision.
"I was told she would go blind if not operated on in time," says her grandmother.
"However, the money for the operation - sh14m - was too much for me and I did not know where to turn to," she adds.
Aguti works as a school matron at St Elizabeth Girls Senior Secondary School, Kidetok in Serere district while her son, the father to the girl, is a peasant farmer in Ajuket village in Kumi district.
I soon learn that the girl's parents separated some years back, leaving her under the care of her grandmother.
Christine and her grandmother need help. (Credit: Gladys Kalibbala)
Meanwhile, after the diagnosis, little Aguti who is Primary Four pupil at Kidetok Primary School in Serere, had an operation on one eye after good Samaritans came out to offer help. Her grandmother had been advised to take her to Dr Agarwal's Eye Hospital in Kampala where the operation of both eyes was expected to cost sh14m.
The girl's ordeal was aired on Vision Group's Etop Radio and later the story published in Etop newspaper from where Iteso Welfare Association (IWA) got to learn about it.
"This group mobilized resources from good Samaritans who managed to raise funds for the operation of one eye at a cost of sh7m," says the older Aguti.
She is now appealing to good Samaritans to again come to the rescue of her grandchild so she can have an operation on her other eye, scheduled for two weeks from now. (Scroll to bottom of page for how to help)
Aguti adds that after the operation, there are still several additional expensive drugs to help in the healing process. "The drugs prescribed on every visit after the operation range from sh90,000 to sh100,000," she says.
Christine Aguti's story re-emerged as Uganda joined other countries in commemorating World Sight Day - an annual day of awareness held on the second Thursday of October (this time, October 13), to focus global attention on blindness and vision impairment.
Information from the health ministry indicates that at least 250,000 people in Uganda are totally blind. A ministerial statement also notes that about 1.2 million people in the country, both adults and children, are visually impaired due to refractive errors.
According to health minister Jane Ruth Aceng, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the country while they are also the most common cause of vision loss in people over 40 years of age.
It is also revealed that there are 17 common eye conditions in Uganda including Cataract (adult and peadiatric), Primary Open angle Glaucoma (increased eye pressure), Diabetic retinopathy, Refractive errors, Low Vision, Retinoblastoma (cancer of the retina), Conjunctivitis, Foreign body of the eye, Keratitis/Corneal ulcers, Conjunctivitis of the new born, Stye, Trachoma, Eye injuries plus others.
Aceng cautions the public to avoid self-medication and use eye drops prescribed only by a qualified eye health worker.
TO ASSIST CHRISTINE AGUTI
The mobile contact of the little girl's grandmother, who doubles as her caretaker, is 0783995712