A NELSON Mandela Bay doctor believes ensuring comprehensive eye care services are offered to rural and disadvantaged communities will help alleviate poverty by eliminating the burden of blindness.
Uitenhage Provincial Hospital ophthalmology medical officer Dr William Mapham said eye care was one of the most cost-effective healthcare interventions, but it had a stigma of being expensive.
"The remarkable effect of cataract surgery is that it turns a disabled blind person into a healthier seeing patient in less than 30 minutes. We had a traditional healer who had stopped working due to blindness. After cataract surgery, she returned to work.
"At a societal level, research has shown that the cost of a comprehensive eye service saves that society 14.6 times that amount. This means that all societies need a comprehensive eye care service to help alleviate poverty," Mapham said.
For their work, Mapham and the rest of the team at the Uitenhage Eye Clinic have received the Impumelelo Social Innovations gold award, which recognises work which improves the quality of the lives of the poor in the country. The clinic was one of only eight projects selected nationally for a gold award.
Mapham, 36, said the clinic was run by a strong team which included, among others, two doctors, nurses, administrators, and an optometrist.
Since the clinic was officially opened in February last year, Mapham and Dr Juan Deseta, 35, have worked tirelessly and see nearly 500 patients every month. Last year, 200 people received cataract surgery through the clinic. By July this year, 166 patients had received cataract surgery. Their target is to perform 300 operations by the end of the year.
Cataract surgery restores people's sight by removing the cataract – a lens of the eye which has become opaque – and replacing it with an artificial intra-ocular, or lens.
Despite their hectic work schedules, Mapham and Deseta also find the time to do outreach projects in Paterson, Addo and Kirkwood where they do eye tests and arrange for patients to have surgery in Nelson Mandela Bay. "The Uitenhage Eye Clinic started off as an outreach project as well, by Dr Mark Jacoby and Dr Danie Louw. They are remarkable as they have set the record for the most cataract surgeries, achieving 2000 surgical procedures per one million people. This is the internationally accepted target for the elimination of cataract blindness," Mapham said.
Over and above their outreach projects, the pair also volunteer for the South African National Council for the Blind, where they travel to remote areas as far away as Namibia, assisting the disadvantaged.
"One woman had been blind for nine years. She never thought it was possible that she could see again. She received the surgery and she could see. It was the most amazing thing to watch. Things like that makes it all worth it," Mapham said.
Deseta said there was no work more rewarding than restoring sight to people who had given up hope.
Mapham said while the equipment necessary to perform the eye tests was expensive, performing the surgery was inexpensive as only lenses were required, which cost between R100 and R300.
"Eye care is very down-played and is viewed as expensive, but the fact is that we live in such as visual world. The cost for surgery per patient is actually quite cheap."
He said people who needed surgery the most were the elderly and those who suffered trauma such as car accidents.