Lack of funding could leave thousands blind from cataracts in SA

An estimated 290,000 South Africans could go blind as a result of untreated cataracts.

This, as government facilities are unable to meet the demand for eyesight-saving surgery and waiting lists stretching well over a year, public benefit initiative Right to Sight has said.

The Right to Sight Trust, the philanthropic arm of the Ophthalmological Society of South Africa (OSSA), has contributed more than R50-million over the past three years towards vision-restoring operations, but has now run out of funds to cover the cost of vital surgical consumables like intraocular lens implants.

The organisation will struggle to accomplish its goals of ending preventable blindness in the target year of 2020, Right to Sight Trust chairperson Bayanda Mbambisa said.

The Right to Sight Trust, the Second Sight project and its forerunner Eyecare 2000, are OSSA’s response to the World Health Organisation’s call for all countries to eliminate avoidable blindness by 2020.

The Second Sight Project enables patients from low-income households who are unable to afford private medical care and have been on a public hospital waiting list for over a year to access sponsored cataract surgery.

“Our initiative partners with the private and public sectors in realising the WHO’s Vision 2020 ask. In the past three years, we have helped 2,071 people in South Africa,” Mbambisa said.

“Based on a conservative estimate that one cataract sufferer impacts the lives of six people, over 12,400 individuals have benefited indirectly through this partnership that restores patients’ independence along with their sight.”

“Yet, as we enter 2020, the target year set by WHO, funds are dwindling. It’s devastating that the project is once more struggling to accomplish its mission,”  she added.

South Africa’s national cataract surgery rate lags international norms, even for developing countries, with the number of surgeries performed declining since the mid-2000s, Mbambisa said

Second Sight’s partnership approach includes ophthalmologists in private practice and anaesthetists who donate their time and skills, while private hospitals provide theatre time and funding partners and sponsors provide intraocular lenses and other consumables for cataract surgery.

Mbambisa said that in 2019, five medical device companies and three financial donors partnered on the project, with 85 ophthalmologists performing regular monthly surgeries.

“In 2019 alone we helped 646 people regain their sight,” she said.

“Funding is the only obstacle that stands between this highly effective partnership model and our ability to provide sight-saving surgeries.”

African News Agency (ANA)