SEE International provides cataract surgery and education around the world. A cataract is the clouding in the normally transparent lens of the eye. In a healthy, unclouded lens, light is able to pass through to the retina at the back of the eye, allowing us to see detail. As the lens develops cataracts, however, vision becomes blurred, and blindness eventually results.
According to the World Health Organization, cataracts cause a third of worldwide blindness, affecting approximately 12.6 million people. Cataracts additionally cause moderate to severe vision loss to 52.6 million individuals, 99% of whom live in developing countries.
Although it is a relatively simple condition to treat surgically in the developed world, in many developing countries, access to eye care is extremely limited. Moreover, as populations age and average life expectancy continues to increase worldwide, the number of people with cataracts will only grow more widespread.
A Healthy Eye and an Eye with A Cataract
Biological aging is the most common cause of cataracts, but exposure to ultraviolet radiation, skin diseases, injury, infection, smoking, and genetic factors are also causes. Some children are even born with the condition.
Those living in developing countries, particularly those with agrarian societies, are at increased risk. Individuals who spend much of their day working outdoors without eye protection are exposed to UV-B radiation, which can lead to cataracts.
While there is no way to completely prevent getting cataracts, the following can lessen the likelihood of developing them:
1. Living a healthy lifestyle by reducing smoking and alcohol consumption
2. Avoiding eye trauma by wearing safety goggles
3. Wearing sunglasses to protect eyes from UV radiation
Cataract removal is a simple, non-invasive surgical process with a high success rate – 90% of patients report a corrected vision of 20/40 or better afterwards. SEE International performs three types of cataract surgery: Phacoemulsification (or “Phaco”), Extra Capsular Cataract Extraction (ECCE) and Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery (MSICS).
Cataracts in the developing world generally have gone untreated for a longer period of time than in places like the United States. Thus they are usually denser and harder to remove. MSICS is the generally the ideal technique to use as it allows the doctor to get the more mature cataract out in a shorter amount of time than if they were to use Phaco.
Phaco is most commonly used in the developed world and utilizes an expensive handheld ultrasonic probe, which emulsifies (turns to liquid) the clouded lens, which surgeons then replace with an artificial (man-made) lens. ECCE uses a larger incision than phaco and generally needs stitches and thus is less commonly used. The Manual Small Incision technique is an evolution of ECCE that does not require stitches. More information on MSICS can be found here.
SEE INTERNATIONAL & CATARACTS AROUND THE WORLD
SEE is working diligently to reduce the number of cataract cases around the world by:
- Performing cataract surgery
- Teaching appropriate cataract surgical techniques, such as Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery.
- Training local eye care personnel in ophthalmology in rural and urban areas.
- Strengthening local health care infrastructure.