Cataracta Blog

For the last twenty years, eye-specialist Dr. Richard Hardi has been healing people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the heart of Africa. Richárd works in Mbuji-Mayi, the centre of a province larger than Florida, or almost the size of the United Kingdom, in the only well equipped operating theatre in the region. From here he sets out in all directions into the outlying corners of the province, to give a chance to those patients who live 600-800 km away from the ophthalmology centre. Dr. Hardi is the only practicing ophthalmologist in the area of 8 million inhabitants.

As public transport is non-existent, the patients (often the elderly and children) make the journey on foot. The patients, frequently totally blind by then due to cataracts, arrive at Richárd’s temporary surgery in bicycle baskets or leaning on to relatives. As Richárd puts it, “Travelling 300-400 kilometres on these roads is like asking some relatives to push their seventy year old blind grandmother from Budapest to Paris – or from Chicago to New York – in a bicycle basket...” For many, this is their only chance not to live out the rest of their lives blind and vulnerable in the corner of a mud hut.

Due to the strength of the equatorial sun and the lack of screening, this region is particularly affected by cataracts. This disease is treatable by a routine 15 minute operation. The exemplary story of Dr. Hardi, who has so far restored the sight of up to nine thousand people, is presented by the photographer in a series on the treatment of Mbedji, an eight year old girl. The little girl has not been able to see with either eye since the age of four. Her grandmother brought her to the operation from Nkembe, 80 kilometres away. She led her granddaughter by the hand for most of the way, and carried her on her back over the more hazardous sections. As it could not be known when they could undertake such a long journey again, the doctor broke with protocol and operated on both of the girl’s eyes, thus restoring the little girl’s sight and at the same time her opportunity to live a full life.

Everything he does together with his staff is backed by his own resources for the most part, the mission being financed by foundations for lack of state support. In the villages, they ask for much less than the real costs of the operations, and they do not expect money for operations on children or the poorest of the poor. After an examination, the eye to be operated on is marked with a little label. In general they only operate on one of the patient’s eyes, so they will have time for more people. Every day, the missionary doctor has to fight a million battles of various intensities – with people, with the elements and with circumstances. The doctor carries out scientific research besides his surgery work, and he often has dreams, too: that a real hospital will be built, with an operating theatre, a surgery, with departments of optics and paediatric ophthalmology, and trained staff.

The series of photographs was taken between March and May 2015.