During my rotation in Opthalmology at Steve Biko Academic Hospital and the Pretoria Eye Institute in South Africa, I noticed that a large percentage of the patients that were operated on as well as those seen in the clinics were suffering from cataract-induced blindness. My thought about how detrimental such a disease is for patients: their eyesight slowly diminishing until many are entirely blind. I thought of how their lives, their jobs, and their everyday work within their homes and communities were affected. The more I thought about it the more I started to realize the burden of this disease on the South African Government. To my pleasant surprise, it turns out the South African Department of Health is doing quite a lot about managing the burden.
Disability in our country is a growing problem, with 5% of the population regarded as having a disability, and sight being the most common (constituting 32% of all disabilities!) Cataracts is one of the leading causes of blindness and sight disability.
What is the Department of Health (DoH) doing about it?
A very important aspect to note about cataracts is that the blindness it causes is reversible. So the DoH teamed up with The Islamic Medical Association to start a Cataracts Eye Camp Program. The program entails surgeries done in various hospitals as well as mobile operations done in the rural communities.
Using highly qualified and trained Ophthalmologists, the cataracts (the gradual clouding of the eye’s lens) is removed and replaced with a synthetic transparent lens, thus restoring the patients’ vision. Employing state-of-the-art technology including Ophthalmic Ultrasound Telescopes and Endocapsular devices, one surgeon is able to do as many as 320 patients in one year. With an average of over 40,000 cataracts removals per annum!
The telescopes and Endocapsular devices are fairly non invasive and the patient is put under local anesthetic. The Endocapsular device which also has a zonular supporting device has many advantages. These include the support and restoration of surrounding structures in the eye including the zonule, capsule and the sclera.4 This results in minimal complications, speedy post operative recovery as well as quick surgeries (taking about 30 minutes on average to do the procedure).
Another piece of new technology that is being used more is the Femtosecond Laser, which are replacing manual cataracts surgery. The lasers are far more accurate and less damaging to the eye thus resulting in less trauma during surgery, less postoperative complications and a faster recovery period. And this technology is constantly upgrading with four new lasers soon to be released.
A Case for Technology Improving Outcomes
By incorporating new technology with surgeons skills and time, not to mention international collaboration, the Department of Health in South Africa is decreasing the burden of supporting the disabled by reversing blindness that is caused by cataracts. It is a brilliant program that has (no pun intended) truly visible results!