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How Preventable Global Blindness Affects Us All

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Cataracts are the leading cause of preventable blindness on our planet today, yet we possess the cure for this blinding condition. - Dr. Kevin M. Barber, Central Florida Eye Specialists

Cataracts are the leading cause of preventable blindness on our planet today, yet we possess the cure for this blinding condition. The cure is a safe surgical procedure that takes less than 15 minutes and can cost under $100.  

What Is a Cataract?
A cataract is a clouding of the natural focusing lens of your eye. Cataracts typically form as part of the natural aging process. However, poor health, excess sun exposure, certain medical conditions, genetic factors, and some medications can accelerate cataract growth that can become large enough to cause complete blindness.  

Access to Eye Care
Last year, over two million cataract surgeries were performed in the United States. Virtually no American goes blind from cataracts because there is adequate access to care. Lack of access to eye care in low-income countries has resulted in over 240 million people worldwide visually impaired from cataracts. 

Effects of Blindness
A blind person in a low-income country often requires more than two people to care for them. Generally, children become the caregiver for a blind family member, meaning the child misses out on an education, therefore continuing the cycle of poverty. The blind person is typically unable to work, losing personal dignity and creating a burden on the family unit and the socioeconomic community.  

Treatment for Cataracts
Currently, the only treatment for a visually significant cataract is surgical removal. In the U.S., cataract surgery is performed with a technology driven technique called phacoemulsification. In addition, many surgeons now offer femtosecond laser-assisted cataract surgery (FLACS). The procedure typically takes less then 15 minutes and is performed in an outpatient setting. Light sedation is used, and visual recovery is usually quick and painless. In addition, advanced technology intraocular lens implants are available for those patients who are interested in reducing their dependence on glasses.    

In low-income countries, where the vast majority of the visually impaired live, cataract surgery is most commonly performed with a manual technique. The manual technique does not require expensive technology, yet still provides good visual results. This technique can usually be performed in less than 10 minutes and offered for under $100 per surgery.

How Can You Be Involved?
The limitations to safe cataract surgery in low-income countries are a complex problem. American surgeons cannot volunteer enough time or resources to reduce the backlog of cataract blindness themselves.  However, we can all support self-sustaining initiatives to eradicate preventable cataract blindness by contributing time or money, or by increasing awareness. Surgeons, nurses, and healthcare support staff need training on how to meet the specific needs of low-income countries. Healthcare providers in low-income countries need our help to ramp up their efforts to cure cataract blindness. Are you willing to help? 

Dr. Kevin M. Barber is a refractive cataract surgeon with Central Florida Eye Specialists and is president of Advanced Centers For Eyecare – Global, a 501(c)(3) organization with a mission of eradicating preventable blindness. Visit AceCaresGlobal.org

 

 

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