ORBIS International, a non-profit humanitarian organization, teaches cataract surgery in developing countries. Cataract refers to a clouding of the eye’s normally transparent lens. This clouding prevents light from passing unobstructed through the lens onto the retina, resulting in a blurry, dull or indistinct image. People often say they feel as though they’re peering through a streaked or oily glass.
Other cataract symptoms include dimming of vision, poor night vision and a gradual brownish tint to your vision with an accompanying loss of brightness. These symptoms usually develop over time and are part of the aging process that occurs to some extent in all people. However, cataracts may be present at birth or result from an eye injury, infection or inflammation. They can occur in one eye or both. While eliminating cataracts altogether is impossible, blindness prevention programs can reduce the overall number of cataract cases.
How common are cataracts?
According to the World Health Organization, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide accounting for 51 percent of all cases of blindness. Africa, Asia,
India account for most cases of cataract blindness. With numbers like these, you can see why blindness prevention programs can benefit people beyond those primarily afflicted.
Cataracts affect both the young and the
old. Millions could see again if cataract
surgery were available everywhere.
Because people are living longer, the number of individuals with cataracts is growing. In spite of increasing efforts to treat this eye disease, the backlog of patients requiring treatment remains large. Although cataracts can be easily removed, surgical services in many developing countries are either inadequate, inaccessible or too expensive for much of the affected population.
Risk factors in developing countries
Prolonged exposure to UV-B radiation, found naturally in sunlight, increases the risk of developing cataracts. Those people living in agrarian societies who spend much of their time outdoors, without sunglasses, are at increased risk of developing cataracts earlier.
Cigarette smoking also poses a risk of cataracts. This is an important factor in developing countries, where cigarettes are marketed without health warnings or government-sponsored education as to the health risks. Government-sponsored regulations on smoking are practically non-existent in the developing world.
Prevention of cataracts
Although there is no way to completely prevent cataracts, reducing smoking, lowering alcohol consumption, avoiding eye trauma, and protecting your eyes from ultraviolet light can help delay their development.
Treatment of cataracts
Cataract treatment involves removing the clouded lens from the eye. The optical error that results may be corrected by eyeglasses, contact lenses or, most commonly, by the implantation of an intraocular lens (IOL). Cataract removal is a quick, cost-effective operation that is performed under local anesthetic and has a success rate as high as 98 percent.
What ORBIS is doing about cataracts in developing countries
To help reduce the backlog of cataract cases in developing countries, ORBIS is:
- Training local eye care personnel in adult and pediatric ophthalmology in both rural as well as urban areas
- Strengthening existing health care infrastructure
- Teaching appropriate cataract surgical techniques, such as modified small incision cataract surgery
- ORBIS was a sponsor of the Cataract Impact Study, a five-year research study by the International Centre for Eye Health in
London to show the full economic impact on a country due to a high rate of cataract-induced blindness.
For more information on cataracts, see: