Cataract is still the leading cause of blindness in South Africa despite it being one of the most cost-effective procedures.
In South Africa, it has been estimated more than 250,000 people are blind due to cataracts and 40-60% of those who are visually impaired experience vision loss as a direct result of cataracts.
Worldwide according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are 2.2 billion people with visual impairment, of which at least 1 billion people have visual challenges that could have been prevented or are yet to be addressed.
The OSSA Right to Sight Trust, an initiative of the Ophthalmological Society of South Africa, is working towards the reduction of cataract blindness in the country. This year they will give the gift of sight to around 500 financially needy patients who are either partially sighted or blind due to untreated cataracts.
The campaign involves ophthalmologists giving of their time and skill, private hospitals donating facilities and funding partners and sponsors providing access to intraocular lenses and consumables for cataract surgery.
Dr Bayanda Mbambisa, Chairperson of Right to Sight says over the past eight years, 3,672 free cataract surgeries have been performed under the Right to Sight banner.
“This equates to over R99 million worth of services for surgeries that prevent blindness and restore hope and dignity to needy patients. Based on a conservative estimate that one cataract sufferer impacts the lives of six people, over 22,000 people have benefited indirectly. Family members are freed from the enormous responsibility of providing care and can resume their own educational, employment, and recreational activities – all of which impact the economic and social health of families and communities.”
“The surgery is life changing yet many public hospitals do not have ophthalmologists and consumbales, or are understaffed due to posts not being funded. This, coupled with the high incidence of cataracts in South Africa, has resulted in a severe backlog of patients requiring surgery – with many people remaining on a waiting list for well over a year.
She explains that cataract is when proteins in your eye’s natural lens break down causing the lens to become cloudy and vision turning blurry, hazy and less colourful as a result.
The signs of cataract are:
Having blurry or clouded vision as if looking through a dirty window
Trouble seeing at night
Seeing halos around lights
Sensitivity to light and glare
Seeing double or a ghosted image
Requiring brighter light for reading
Having trouble seeing well at night
Seeing bright colours as faded or yellow instead
Dr Mbambisa says over time, cataracts can lead to vision loss.
“Age is the most common cause of cataracts due to the normal eye changes experienced after the age of 40. Although vision loss in most age-related cataracts develops gradually, others can be accelerated such as those found in younger people or those diagnosed with diabetes.”
“The most significant contributing factors for cataracts include, smoking, eye injuries or surgery, and long-term exposure to sun without UV sunglasses. Regardless of your cataract type, you will need surgery to treat it.”
Dr Mbambisa urges everyone to take care of their eye health by:
Having an annual eye exam for those older than 65, or every two years if younger.
Protecting their eyes from UV light by wearing a hat and sunglasses that block at least 99 percent UV.
Making eye-healthy food choices but eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, and whole grains.
Using brighter lights for reading or a magnifying glass
Limiting driving at night once night vision, halos or glare becomes a problem
Managing other health problems such as diabetes
Immediately visit an eye care specialist if vision loss is impacting your regular activities.
Visit www.righttosight.org to support the Trust in reaching more patients during Eye Care Awareness Month in October.