By: Heather Haines, Director, External Relations
On weeknights and weekends, much of my time is spent at the Humane Rescue Alliance (HRA), an animal rescue organization happily located less than two miles from my home. As a volunteer, I perform a range of tasks, from being a dog handler at adoption events, to stuffing Kongs with peanut butter and ensuring the pups get a final potty break before settling in for the night.
Back in December, near the end of my evening shift, with only two pups left to walk, Marilee, a fellow volunteer, motioned me over to one of the “doggy dens.” There sat Minimus—a 6-month old pit bull mix, whose eyes were squeezed firmly shut.
“Look at this sweet girl,” Marilee said, stroking the pup’s face. “The staff said her eyelashes are turning inward. Must be so painful. Can you imagine?”
Given my work with the END Fund, I actually could imagine. As I watched Minimus struggle, pawing at her reddening eyes, I thought immediately of some of our beneficiaries, who, because of similar, constant irritation, may pull out their own eyelashes to help ease the discomfort and pain. I’ve also witnessed–in classrooms from Bahir Dar, Ethiopia to Arusha, Tanzania–a rather simple surgical intervention and solution that costs around $40USD and can be performed without electricity, under local anesthetic.
For the END Fund, this disease–one of the five neglected tropical diseases we focus on— is trachoma, a bacterial infection and the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide. With repeated infection over time, the eyelids turn inwards, causing eyelashes to rub against the eyeball, which can lead to scarring of the cornea. Left untreated, visual impairment or even blindness is possible. While I wasn’t sure what caused Minimus’s’ condition, poor hygiene, often due to a lack of access to water and proper sanitation facilities, is the leading culprit of trachoma.
Soon, I was reaching out to the HRA team, asking about surgical options for this young pup, and less than a week later, I picked up a slightly groggy Minimus from the vet, post-surgery. Apparently, entropion—a genetic condition in which a portion of the eyelid is inverted or folded inward—was to blame in Minimus’s case, rather than trachoma, yet the symptoms, interventions, and outcomes are very similar.
While in my personal capacity, I could impact only this one small, furry life, I’m thrilled to work for an organization that can make tremendous progress in fighting not just trachoma, but four other diseases that, together, cause up to 90% of the NTD burden in sub-Saharan Africa. We see first-hand how treatment for NTDs can keep kids alert and in school, and adults able to earn an income to support their families.
Minimus is now happy, healthy, and no longer suffering. My hope is that she will soon find her forever home, where she’ll be greeted with endless treats, naps, and ear scratches, with only a neighborhood cat as a possible source of irritation. The realization that she can now take in the world, see it as it is, clearly and without impediment, fills this volunteer’s heart with tremendous joy.