CATARACTS ARE THE LEADING CAUSE OF PREVENTABLE BLINDNESS IN ETHIOPIA
Why are our Cataract Campaigns in Ethiopia so Important?
1% of the overall population in Ethiopia is blind. The leading cause of preventable blindness is untreated cataracts*.
While in more developed countries patients with cataracts “simply” have a 20+ minute surgery to correct their vision, in Ethiopia this is not the case and untreated cataracts eventually lead to blindness. The key reasons patients in Ethiopia don’t get cataract surgery are lack of knowledge (that there is a solution), cost (they cannot afford), and access - we treat people in remote villages with little access to transportation to get to doctors/medical centers.
Operation Ethiopia aims to decrease blindness rates in Ethiopia by performing “Cataract Campaigns” where we perform 300-500 cataract surgeries over one week. We go to remote areas where patients have little or no access to medical care – and we set up our own sterile surgery areas and treat the patients there on site.
We contract with the University of Gondar Tertiary Eye Center to help plan, screen, run and execute the campaigns on the ground. All of the staff (nurses, screeners, technicians and surgeons) are comprised of local people from the University of Gondar Tertiary Eye center who we pay for their work. Operation Ethiopia initiates, fully funds, and together with the University of Gondar Tertiary Eye Center closely plans, and oversees the entire campaign. We also partner with HCP (Himalayan Cataract Project) https://cureblindness.org/, an organization that has deep experience performing cataract campaigns in the third world, to provide added assistance and oversight.
How do our Campaigns Work?
Several weeks before the campaign, through radio, and public service announcements and word of mouth we notify people in the villages in the vicinity of where the campaign is taking place to come and be screened. Local teams from the University of Gondar (UoG) Tertiary Eye Center screen potential surgical candidates. Many patients show up, but not all have cataracts or are suitable for surgery. The campaigns are carried out in areas where the people have minimal or no access to eyecare at all. Those found to be blind from significant cataracts are assigned an appointment to come to the campaign.
On the first day of the campaign a large team from the UoG Tertiary Eye Center transports all the necessary equipment and consumables needed for surgery to the pre-determined site.
The campaign may take place in a health center, school, or municipal building in the village (though our upcoming August, 2022 campaign will be based in Gondar University Hospital) . The room is thoroughly cleaned, and equipment set up to create a fully functioning sterile operating room in the field. All the patients are registered, screened again, and we mark which eye for surgery. All patients undergo biometric measurements to determine what size lens implant will be required, and have their blood pressure checked. Each patient is dressed with a surgical gown, hat and shoe covers and brought into the pre-op holding area. In that space they get an injection of local anesthetic, followed by a pressure patch to enhance the anesthesia coverage. Usually we do 2-3 surgeries at the same time (multiple tables in the OR). Following surgery, antibiotic ointment and a patch are applied, and the patient is escorted toward a post-op area briefly to ensure that they are stable. Because patients travel from far and need to be seen the next day, they usually stay overnight in tents that we set up, where we provide food and drink.
The first day post-op the patients line up and the patch is removed, the eye is irrigated and cleaned, and antibiotic drops are applied. The patients are each given their own set of eye drops to use at home along with thorough instructions. Removing the patch is a dramatic part of the campaign where patients who were previously blind can suddenly see. Sometimes they break out in song or even dance, or give words of thanks.
Patients are followed up at to six weeks. The total loaded cost (including lens implants, medication, anesthesia, transportation, local staff salaries, equipment rental, food, etc.) per patient varies slightly by campaign depending on exchange rates, location and inflation, but is currently $65. Put in other terms, it costs $65 to literally help a blind person see again.