It is estimated that almost 18 million people are bilaterally blind from cataracts, which makes up 48 percent of all blindness cases. About 90 percent of those affected live in low- and middle-income countries. This is a growing concern due to the number of ophthalmologists that work in cities to earn a higher income. For people in rural areas who can’t travel long distances to find treatment, there is no care available. Unfortunately, agricultural and outdoor labor and prolonged exposure to sunlight lead to higher risk for developing cataracts earlier in life.
Lack of access
Insufficient supplies, equipment or trained personnel can create an inability to meet needs. By working together with global partners, we can provide low-cost services for the backlog of patients caused by lack of access to care and build capacity to address the epidemic of preventable blindness going forward.
Access to cataract services in a country is measured by cataract surgical rate (CSR), which is the number of cataract operations performed per million people in one year. Studies have shown a correlation between a country’s GDP and its CSR, meaning in poorer countries where most cases of cataracts occur, care is not accessible.
When the number of people losing their sight is higher than the CSR, a backlog of patients grows. Depending on the partner, addressing the backlog could require volunteer assistance, supplies or equipment. Until then, new patients can’t be helped.
Throughout sub-Saharan Africa, countries have anywhere from 1 to 3 ophthalmologists per million people. In South and Central America, the number can be much higher, anywhere from 10 to 40 per million, but it is still not enough. Compare that to the United Kingdom (49 per million), the United States, (59 per million) or Spain (71 per million), and the disparity becomes even more daunting.
With so few ophthalmologists, communities cannot meet their own needs. To ensure care in the future, we need to build capacity through education and strategic investment. When communities can produce their own doctors to work in their own clinics, we can say we have turned a corner.
Matthew Wheeler, Vice President of Communications, SEE International, [email protected]