Widowed 50-year-old tea worker Lakhpothy Bhor of Tilokpur tea garden in Kulaura upazila could not afford medical treatment on her meagre earnings. Her first child died after birth, more than 20 years ago. Her husband became sick and died not long after.
After her husband’s death, she was uncertain about how to support herself. A few days later, she took up sewing. But she had to give it up a few years later since her eyesight did not allow her to continue.
She became dependent on her brother, also a tea worker with limited income. It was impossible for him to properly support her and the siblings when he lived hand to mouth.
In 2014, Lakhpothy received word of an eye camp nearby through the tea garden authorities. The eye doctor examining her diagnosed a cataract in her right eye. She was admitted to the hospital and underwent cataract surgery for free.
She is regaining her eyesight.
Like Lakhpothy, scores of Sylhet’s underprivileged have benefited from the Moulvibazar BNSB Eye Hospital in Matar Kaphon area of Moulvibazar Sadar.
“Since 1974, we have been running different awareness programmes, including health camps for poor patients in remote areas and providing medicine for free,” said Abdul Hamid Mahbub, joint secretary of the hospital’s executive committee.
Since then, the hospital has provided free or affordable treatment to nearly 26 lakh people, conducted 589 eye camps, and visited 920 educational institutes for free eye treatment, he said.
The hospital is run by the Bangladesh National Society for the Blind (BNSB), an NGO, which held the first eye camp in Moulvibazar in 1974.
Since 1986, it became a fully-fledged hospital, funded largely by donors, including the health ministry.
Syed Mushahid Ahmed Chunnu, general secretary of the hospital’s 17-member executive committee, said their mission is the prevention of blindness by creating mass awareness and early intervention.
“We are providing 50 percent of our services for free for poor patients in both inpatient and outpatient care. It is also completely free for children and students,” he said.
Since 2005, the hospital has a specialised paediatric unit, the first such unit in Sylhet division, with the support of Orbis International, an international NGO. Treatment for children 16 years and below is affordable or free for the poor.
Mohammad Siraj, 60, a resident of the Shahpur area in Habiganj Sadar said, “I have been suffering from pain in my eyes for a long time. For the last few days, I have been receiving treatment and getting medicine from the hospital. The last visit cost me Tk 100. Since it is not a big amount to spend, we are happy.”
Minhaj Uddin, 45, a local of Kazir Bazar in Sylhet city, said he spent two days in the hospital for his eye operation. “I had to pay only Tk 100 in total, including the bill for surgery, medicine, and even daily meals.”
Husna Begum, 55, of Ichapur village in Sreemangal upazila, said the hospital is a blessing for the poor. “I have been taking treatment here for one month and my eyes are now okay. I like coming here because there is no chaos and confusion,” she said.
The hospital is manned by 134 full-time staffers, including 14 doctors and 32 nurses, who specialise in biometry, A-scan, B-scan, laser treatment, Minor operations, one-stop cataract clinic, glaucoma unit, diabetic unit, ocular microbiological laboratory, intraocular lens and phaco service, screening service, special paediatric unit and optical and dispensing service, said the hospital’s administrative manager Mohammad Ehsanul Mannan.
According to the information provided by the hospital, 1,00,877 received treatment at the hospital in 2016. The numbers went up to 1,03,536 and 1,04,680 in 2017 and 2018.