Namibia’s Helena Ndume, known by locals as “the miracle doctor,” is making history for the small South African country, curing one eye at a time.
Ndume, who is the head of the eye department in Namibia’s largest hospital, Windhoek Central, became an eye doctor after training in Germany at age 15.
She returned to recently independent Ndume in 1989, pursuing medical internships at Windhoek Central and Katatura.
Her goal was to cure Namibia of cataracts, a cloudiness that develops in the crystalline lens of the eye and affects 6 million Africans.
Ndume focused on this disease because its danger, which threatens blindness, is curable. In an area of one million people, 5,000 will claim blindness due to cataracts.
In Namibia, with a population of a mere two million, cataracts reigns as one of the main reasons for blindness, especially in the elderly.
Ndume became a member of the South West Africa liberation movement at age 15. Namibia was one of the South West African countries seeking independence from the more powerful, occupying South Africa regime.
The South West Africa’s People Organization urged Ndume to become a doctor, a profession that would help a newly independent Namibia grow economically.
She remembers Namibia’s current Prime Minister Nahas Angula sitting in a housing camp in Zambia, telling her 15-year-old self to become a doctor.
Ndume relinquished her original childhood dream to become a fashion designer and, under the guidance of her mentor, Dr. Libertine Amadhila, pursued a career in medicine.
Upon returning from Germany, she then spent six months in India, another country where cataracts reigns as a main contributor to blindness. It was there that she learned how to treat tropical diseases and deal with patients suffering from lack of medical care.
Namibia was unfamiliar with eye surgery. In 1995, Ndume attended a medical conference with her husband in the United States, where she learned about the Surgical Eye Expedition, a non-profit humanitarian effort which takes volunteer doctors and nurses around the world to perform eye surgeries and cure blindness.
Just two years later, she had organized her first eye camp in Rundu, Namibia. The focus of the eye camp was to reach into the most rural regions of the country to help those with eye diseases.
Since, she has established multiple eye camps across South West Africa, providing eye surgery and services free of charge.
Ndume estimates that she and her team of medical professionals have cured over 20,000 people of cataracts, and her tireless expedition has won the attention of international aid, such as Surgical Eye Expedition and Seeing without Borders.