News / Health

    Restoring Sight to the Cataract-Blinded Poor

    Restoring Sight to the Cataract-Blinded Poor i
    X
    June 28, 2013 12:30 AM
    Two eye surgeons, one American and one Nepalese, are united on a quest to end preventable blindness - blindness that leads to poverty and early death for many in the developing world. Over two decades, the efforts of the two doctors have returned sight to an estimated 2 million people in Africa and Asia. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
    Cataract Surgery Developing World
    Carolyn Weaver
    In China or Ethiopia, Rwanda or Nepal, the scenes are the same: crowds of patients waiting in the open air, bandages over their eyes. Each has been blind for months, years, decades, because of cataracts, the hardened, clouded lens tissue that causes most of the world’s blindness. Each underwent a ten-minute microsurgery barely 24 hours earlier, in temporary field hospitals where medical teams worked with assembly-line efficiency: making tiny slits in eyeballs, delicately removing cataracts, and inserting artificial lenses.

    As the bandages come off, some people exclaim in joy, or do a little dance. Others have a wondering look, as they see the landscape, or the faces of family members again.

    The two surgeons responsible for these scenes met in the Himalayas. Geoffrey Tabin, an American doctor educated at Yale and Harvard, was a passionate mountain climber when he met Sanduk Ruit, who had grown up in a poor Nepalese village, a ten-day walk from the nearest school. Ruit had studied medicine in India before returning to Nepal and embarking on a one-man effort to restore sight to Nepalese suffering from cataracts. In the developed world, cataracts are usually removed before they cause serious visual impairment. But in poorer nations, people often lose all sight, as the cataract hardens and covers the eyeball with a white veil. Even children may be afflicted, especially high in the Himalayas, where UV radiation from the sun damages the eye.

    “Worldwide, there are 18 million people who can’t see the shadow of a hand move across their face because they’re blind from cataracts,” Tabin says. In places where the margins of survival are thin, the blind are often plunged into greater poverty and even early death. Poor families cannot afford to lose a worker, or to feed and care for someone helpless. “They call it a ‘mouth without hands,’” Tabin says.

    Ruit realized that modern surgery with artificial lens implantation could be done quickly, outside hospitals, at a cost of only about $25 per patient. The technique he refined allows cataracts to be removed in one motion, through a sutureless incision. Almost all have perfect vision the next day.

    “He really is the genius behind our whole system of developing really top-quality cataract surgery for the poorest of the poor at very high volume,” says Tabin. Together, the two men founded the Himalayan Cataract Project in 1995. Its work has spread from Nepal to Bhutan, northern China, and northern India, in addition to about ten African countries, including Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana and South Sudan.
     
    At the project’s “eye camps,” groups of visiting eye surgeons perform hundreds of the surgeries over a period of weeks in remote areas far from hospitals. Tabin says the technique is almost the same as in advanced Western hospitals, but the pace is much faster. “We have almost like an assembly-line production, where a doctor is just moving from patient to patient.” Over eleven days in February-March 2013, in Ethiopia, for example, teams performed more than 1300 surgeries.
     
    Perhaps even more important, Tabin says, is that the camps train local doctors and medical workers in the technique, who then go on to train others. And it helps set up local, self-sustaining surgical operations.
     
    All together, he estimates, two million people have had their vision restored through the project's efforts. He says the project’s goal, of wiping out preventable blindness through the developing world, seems increasingly attainable.
     
    “When we started, there was a backlog of cataract blindness in Nepal. We thought it’s going to be a lifetime before we get a handle on this. But now doctors in Nepal are doing over 250,000 cataract surgeries every year, and people are coming in to have their cataracts done earlier and earlier,” Tabin says. “And Nepal, which is really the poorest country in South Asia, is now the only major developing country that’s reducing its rate of blindness now.”
     
    Over the two decades of its existence, the project has been the subject of several documentaries. It is also the subject of a new book, “Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives,” by the late writer David Oliver Relin. In 2006, Ruit received the Ramon Magsaysay prize, often referred to as the Asian Nobel Prize, and Tabin was awarded an Unsung Hero award by the Dalai Lama.

    It is the moment when the bandages come off, however, that Tabin says have been most gratifying. “When the patch comes off, there’s first this look of bewilderment, or ‘what am I seeing,’ and then recognition, and then this absolutely pure unadulterated joy,” he says. “I never get tired of seeing that.

    You May Like

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    South Korea Says North Korea Moving Closer to Rocket Launch

    In phone call, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that Pyongyang's move would be 'provocative'

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.