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Humanitarians working to end blindness stigma in Sierra Leone

Blind citizens of Sierra Leone not only need to overcome struggles of everyday life, but they must also fight back against those in the nation who believe their blindness is a cause of witchcraft, IRIN reports.

"The less educated public, especially those still living in remote rural communities, believes in witchcraft, and many unusual illnesses or afflictions can be blamed on it," Mary Hodges, Sierra Leone’s country director for the Helen Keller International (HKI), told the news outlet.

Witchcraft has long been pegged as the cause of blindness and other disabilities in the region, though now humanitarian workers are trying to educate citizens as a way to curb the stigma and help those with disabilities gain new opportunities. According to the source, many people stay away from those who are blind because they believe it is contagious.

"People with disabilities are not recognized - in schools [blind students] aren't expected to excel, and in the workplace people don’t believe that blind people can deliver results," Thomas Alieu, founder of an adult education center for the blind, who is blind himself, told the publication.

HKI reports that more than 71,000 people across Sierra Leone are blind, most became blind after bouts of measles.

Now, HKI runs a radio show to educate the public about blindness by bringing experts on to discuss issues revolving around the disorder. Other groups are helping by supplying textbooks in braille to the five provincial schools for blindness in the country.
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