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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened More

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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid