A Vision for Eliminating Blindness All Over the World
Written by Dr. Geoff Tabin, co-founder of the Himalayan Cataract Project and Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Director of the Division of International Ophthalmology at the John A. Moran Eye Center, University of Utah. He is also an accomplished mountaineer and is featured in the new book Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives.
The ululation of a formerly blind Ethiopian is an exaltation of pure joy. When the patch is first removed, there is an initial moment of uncertainty and blinking that yields to a gaze of amazement and wonder. Next, the face embraces an expression of rapture as pure as a baby focusing on her mother for the first time. A spontaneous grin widens into a full mouthed smile as broad and glowing as an African sunrise. When the lips can spread no further, out gushes the throaty vibration of the ululation. Family members rush to the patient, often with tears flowing down their cheeks. Not only is the patient freed from the fog of blindness but their caretaker is now released from the burden of caring for the sightless.
In 1995, my partner Dr. Sanduk Ruit and I co-founded the Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP). HCP’s mission is to eradicate needless blindness through high-quality ophthalmic care, education and the establishment of world-class eye care infrastructure. The new book, Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives, chronicles our journey together and our dedication to bringing the highest quality cataract surgical care to the most destitute and remote populations in the world.
In poor countries, there is often little awareness that sight can be restored. When I began working in Nepal, there was a generalized acceptance that blindness was inevitable.
Forty million people in our world suffer from needless blindness, unable to carry out the simple tasks of daily living. Even though eighty-five percent of this blindness can be treated or could have been prevented, the vast majority will remain without sight until they die.
In the poorest places on our planet, the economic effects of blindness are severe. Blindness causes poverty, and poverty leads to lack of care and blindness.
However, sight restoration and blindness prevention are among the most cost-effective interventions in medicine. Utilizing intraocular lenses and pharmaceuticals manufactured in India and Nepal, the material cost for a sight restoring cataract surgery is less than 25 U.S. dollars. If you include the cost of screening, transportation of the patient and a caretaker to the hospital, feeding them for two days, all post-operative medications and follow up care, it is still typically less than 100 dollars.
While we cannot quickly and easily get rid of cancer or cure HIV, Malaria or Tuberculosis, half of all blindness in our world can be reversed overnight. A cataract surgery restores nearly perfect sight in one day that lasts the remainder of that person’s life. For people whose view of the world is a blur from a refractive error, a pair of glasses instantly gives sight. We have the tools. We have the system. It is time to ramp it up.
For more information, please visit cureblindness.org.
About Himalayan Cataract Project
The Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP), a nonprofit organization, works to eradicate preventable and curable blindness through high quality ophthalmic care, education and the establishment of world-class eye care infrastructure in developing countries. Today, HCP (www.cureblindness.org) reaches the most inaccessible patients wherever its services are needed through a combination of teaching ophthalmic care at all levels, establishing self-sustaining eye care centers and supporting partners to perform high quality, low cost cataract operations in 10 minutes with excellent outcomes.
Photo from Thinkstock