Czechs hope to save Afghan boy's sight

Ajamal, photo: Michal Novotny

Four years ago Czech photojournalist Michal Novotny took a photo that may have given one Afghan - a boy named Ajamal - a fighting chance for a better life. The picture showed the boy - who was then seven - lying in a hospital bed, slowly succumbing to blindness due to malnutrition. When the picture was published in the Czech papers, a Czech reader, Marta Nollova, was so moved that she decided to find a way of helping the boy. This was the catalyst in a chain of events, which eventually led to Czech charity workers in Afghanistan helping to find Ajamal and put together a fund-raising project to save his sight. Doctors - including Czech specialist Martin Filipec - have now travelled to Afghanistan and earlier Jan Velinger spoke with Berkat's Jana Hradilkova, asking her how far preparations for the surgery had come.

Martin Filipec,  Marta Nollova and Italian ocularist Claudio Carresi,  photo: CTK
"Well, Ajamal is waiting for a transplantation of the cornea because he was suffering from long-lasting malnutrition which resulted in his eyes being badly damaged (a condition known as corneal clouding). He is in Kabul awaiting the operation and doctors are prepared to undergo with him after-treatment care. When we asked Doctor Filipec about the success rate of this operation he told us that it was in fact a very 'kind' procedure and told us that that kind of operation often has a high success rate. On the other hand, each case is specific, and no matter how many precautions you take or how promising the situation might appear, there can always be complications. There are no guarantees of success."

This operation is not only very significant for Ajamal but for Afghans in general: I understand this is the first time a cornea transplant like this will be performed in Kabul?

"Yes, exactly. Historically this will be the first transplant provided in Kabul; not only for the eyes but overall."

Is it also true that doctors will not only be performing this one operation but that they will also be providing training for local doctors there to eventually be able to do the procedure themselves?

"Yes, this was a matter of continuous negotiations between Dr Filipec, the civic association Berkat, and doctors from Kabul's hospital who showed an interest in receiving training in special procedures, to negotiate about further training, and possible study trips to the Czech Republic. Actually, from the first humanitarian idea the project evolved into an exchange of expertise between Afghanistan and the Czech Republic. So, at the moment there are not only other patients waiting for this particular operation but also a whole group of doctors waiting for training. [Regarding Ajamal's affliction] about 50 percent of the Afghan population suffers the effects of malnutrition which mean that this kind of disease is really quite widespread there."

"Concerning this boy, today he is really quite prepared, no longer malnourished he regularly gets vitamins thanks to his Czech friend Marta Nollova, he is in quite good condition, he has an uncle who cares for him in Kabul and regularly goes with him to the hospital. So, he is in good condition and hopefully everything will end up well."